The public resentment against the failure of the authority to nab the serial killer of at least seven pavement dwellers in Guwahati has surfaced slowly but steadily. Initially, while it was overlooked by the police and authority on the menace of the killer of the homeless people at night, the media brought it to the public domain. As the brutal murderer targeted his 12th prey within two months, the government came under tremendous pressure from civil society groups to stop the carnage and provide security to the hapless residents of the city.
After Mumbai and Kolkata, the serial killing of homeless persons in Guwahati has shocked the conscience of the people of Northeast India. The victims were found with injuries on heads by some hard items. Every time the killer targeted its prey before the dawn. Every targeted person in the last two months was male. Five of them even survived from the attack of the killer, but sustained severe wounds.
A citizen meeting at Guwahati Press Club on February 28 had strongly criticized the authority for its callous approach to the issue and asked the Government to immediately form a special cell to nab the killer, termed as Stoneman by the media, who has so far claimed several lives in the city. The meeting, organized by the Journalists Forum, Assam (JFA) and chaired by Rupam Baruah, also demanded that night shelters for the city homeless be built in certain areas. “The homeless (in Guwahati) include not only beggars, but a great number of migrant workers too, who have been engaged in rickshaw-pulling, cart-pulling and other livelihoods,” stated in a JFA statement adding that the suggested shelters (for pavement dwellers) should have all sanitary facilities.
The participants in the meeting also demanded proper registration of the homeless population in the city. They suggested a study to go into the roots of these people so that proper schemes could be undertaken for their well-being. Moreover they suggested that there should be some specified spots around religious sites, only where beggars should be allowed to accept eatables and take them. At the same time, the meeting asked the Government to provide means of livelihood to the beggars of the city.
Speakers including Sanjeev Sabhapandint, Jayanta Gogoi, Jagadindra Roychoudhury, Hiten Mahanta, Nava Thakuria, Ranen Kumar Goswami, Sunil Bora, Prabin Thakuria, Dipen Bayan, P.K. Deb Sharma, Jayanta Konwar and Safar Ahmed also deplored the State Government for sitting pretty on various memoranda from different organizations on the security and livelihoods of the homeless.
In another resolution, the meeting said, “Various Central and State government funds, meant for the development of urban areas, should also be spent for the welfare of the homeless. Moreover, the names of NGOs, granted official funds to work for the urban poor, should be made public and the heads where they have spent the money.”
Earlier the Society for Social Transformation and Environment Protection (sSTEP) had organized a public meeting at the press club on the same issue, which was attended by several NGO activists including Mukul Goswami of Ashadeep, Benudhar Baruah of Citizens Forum, Amal Choudhury of Sukreswar Ghat Padapath Nibasi Bansita Samiti etc.
The sSTEP with some other civil society groups even submitted a memorandum to the Kamrup district administration to investigate properly into the matter and take action against the culprit. The memorandum also insisted on the protection for the vulnerable group in the city, informed Sattar Choudhury of sSTEP.
Talking to this writer, Jyotsna Dutta, a member of sSTEP, said that a recent study their organization revealed that Guwahati gave shelter to nearly thousand pavement dwellers. Half of them are male and around 60 are minor. Moreover, 25 persons are physically or mentally challenged. “Understanding that they all belong to a vulnerable group, we are demanding a permanent shelter for the destitute,” added Jyotsna.
Meanwhile, the Gauhati High Court asked the Assam Government to submit a status report on the serial killing of pavement dwellers. Hearing a public interest litigation moved by K N Biswas, the division bench of Justice B N Upadhyay had ordered the government to submit the report by March 9, 2009.