Ray of hope for ULFA kids in jail
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Ray of hope for ULFA kids in jail

Many children are behind bars in various jails in Assam, simply because their parents happen to be militants.

india Updated: Jun 10, 2006 11:37 IST

After more than two and a half years in jail, there is a glimmer of hope for the likes of Abhinav and Bandana, imprisoned in Assam simply for being children of militants.

Six-year-old Abhinav and the equally young Bandana are among two dozen children aged between four and 12 lodged in different jails in the northeastern state.

Most of the children don't understand why they are behind the bars - their only crime is that they happened to be sons and daughters of militants of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

"Have these little children committed any crime? It is horrifying indeed to find so many young boys and girls in jail alongside hardened criminals," noted Assamese writer Indira Goswami said.

The children have grown up behind iron bars.

In December 2003 Bhutan launched a massive military crackdown to evict Indian separatists from the Himalayan kingdom, ULFA being the major rebel group taking shelter in that country.

In a fortnight-long operation, Bhutanese soldiers destroyed about 30 militant camps, shot dead several rebels and captured many more, including wives and children of ULFA fighters.

Some of the unarmed women and children surrendered to advancing Bhutanese soldiers. They all were handed over to Indian authorities in Assam.

"We can release the children from jail but then their mothers who are facing charges do not want their kids to be separated from them," a senior Assam police official said.

Now there is a ray of hope, with Goswami leading a spirited campaign to get the children and their mothers released from jail.

"I have taken up the matter with National Security Adviser MK Narayanan and he was very positive in his attitude. He said he would do whatever is possible to get them freed although no specific timeframe was given," said Goswami, who has been sought by the ULFA to mediate for peace talks with New Delhi.

The children are deprived of the basic right to education, with the facilities inside the jail being far from satisfactory.

"In some jails you have hardened criminals imparting lessons to the children," alleged A Sharma, a women rights activist.

The ULFA, which has been fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979, had in October last year nominated an 11-member team of civil society leaders led by Goswami to begin preliminary talks with New Delhi.

The ULFA-designated People's Consultative Group (PCG) held two rounds of talks with government negotiators.

The next round is scheduled for June 22 in New Delhi to prepare the ground for a bilateral ceasefire and then direct talks between rebel leaders and government negotiators at a later stage.

First Published: Jun 10, 2006 11:37 IST