Assam: violence again
Morning of 27 July, 2012
ET carries an editorial which views the deep history of the current crisis:
The larger issue is far more complex. Assam isn’t just a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state, it is an explosive mix of contestations on sovereignty, multiple layers of feelings of exploitation and injustice, terrorism, tussles over resources, political polarisation and competitive identity management made worse by tensions between settlers and immigrants.
The current violence, blamed on elements from the Muslim and Bodo communities, has its roots in the colonial era when, after the British annexation in 1826, an economy of colonial extraction was imposed which also involved bringing in a Bengali Muslim labour force.
What gradually evolved as a struggle for land and resources between immigrants and the indigenous population was worsened by post-1971 immigration and polarising agitations, leading to the conflict acquiring strong communal hues.
The polarisation along religious identities also led to a certain ghettoisation, which is now sought to be even more violently transformed into mutually exclusive enclaves. Beyond containment of violence, then, what Assam needs is a serious, broad-based dialogue which seeks to address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of all citizens.
Evening of 26 July, 2012
With ethnic violence continuing in Assam, the government today warned that the leaders of both Bodo and Muslim communities will be held responsible if any side is found to be instigating violence that has resulted in loss of over 40 lives.
“The Centre and the state government are both clear that any violence on any side that is instigated and that results in loss of life, the leaders on both sides shall be made responsible,” Union home secretary RK Singh told reporters here.
The warning bears significance as clashes between Bodos and Muslim immigrants in four Assam districts continued for the seventh day today leaving 44 people dead so far. Singh, however, said the situation was better as no incident was been reported during the day. Home minister P Chidambaram too said there was no casualty in the past 24 hours.
He said chief minister Tarun Gogoi will brief him after his visit to the riot affected areas. The home secretary said the prime objective of the government was to provide help and assistance to the affected people who were in camps. He said approximately 1.71 lakh people have been displaced due to the ethnic violence in the state.
Morning of 25 July, 2012
IBN Live reports:
The ethnic violence in Assam has spread in and around the Kokrajhar district all the way to the Bengal border. The death toll now stands at 32. Hundreds were fleeing the villages of Dhubri and Pakhgiuri, as their homes were set on fire.
Adding to the panic, 1,500 more paramilitary personnel have been rushed in with orders to shoot at sight. More than 80,000 people have been displaced, a majority have shifted to 42 relief camps.
The Army staged a flag march on Wednesday morning in Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Chirang and Bongaigaon, the first since violence began four days ago.
There are some reports of land encroachment problems, some of outsiders fuelling attacks but no one is sure what led to the violence.
Orgnaizations on both sides of the divide have blamed the administration for not taking quick preventive steps right at the beginning of the troubles.
Evening of 24 July, 2012
Sixteen years after the last major troubles in the Bodo areas of Assam, violence has broken out again. IBN Live reports:
There has been some serious fallout of the violence in Kokrajhar district in Assam where 21 people have died so far. Nearly 50,000 people have fled their homes in and around 400 villages across Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Chirang districts. The government has set up 42 relief camps.
Meanwhile, train services have been severely hit due to the rail blockades.
At least six north-east bound trains have been cancelled and 18 others including the Rajdhani and Sampark Kranti have been affected.
Morning of 24 July, 2012
The Hindu reports:
Unabated violence on Monday forced the Assam government to issue shoot-at-sight orders in Kokrajhar district. Miscreants from among Bodos and Muslims set ablaze houses in several villages forcing residents to take shelter in relief camps on Sunday.
The death toll in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts went up to 20. The Army staged a flag march in sensitive areas of Kokrajhar district for the second day, even as over 40,000 people fled their homes and took shelter in 47 camps.
Inspector-General of Police (Bodoland Territorial Area Districts) S.N. Singh told The Hindu that shoot-at-sight orders were issued as the situation was threatening to take a serious turn. So far, 15 bodies had been recovered in Kokrajhar and five in Chirang. The violence had also left 18 persons injured.
Kokrajhar Deputy Commissioner Donald Gilfellon said incidents of arson were widespread on Monday with miscreants torching houses left abandoned by panicked villagers.
The 24-hour bandh called by the All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union affected life in all four BTAD districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. The violence-hit people blocked the Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express between Bongaigaon and Gossaigaon for several hours, disrupting running of 18 trains. The train left after the administration persuaded the agitators to lift the blockade.
A meeting of political parties and socio-cultural organisations was held at the Kokrajhar Circuit House. Environment and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain, Transport Minister Chandan Brahma, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Nazrul Islam, Bodoland Territorial Council chief Hagrma Mahilary, and representatives of the All Bodo Students’ Union attended the meeting. It urged the people to maintain peace. Dhubri District Superintendent of Police P.K. Saloi said sporadic incidents of violence occurred in Gauripur, Golokganj and Dhubri during the bandh. In Dhubri, miscreants set ablaze a tribal students’ hostel.
On July 22 India Today had reported on the mindless escalation of violence that started this off:
According to the district administration sources, the violence started after unidentified gunmen attacked two student leaders- Mohibul Islam and Abdul Siddique Sheikh- at Magurbari on Thursday night.
Islam is the president of All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union (ABMSU), and Sheikh is the former president of Bilasipara unit of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union(AAMSU).
Following the incident, four reformed militants were shot dead by unidentified gunmen at Joypur area under Kokrajhar police station on Friday night, Kokrajhar Deputy Commissioner Donald Gilsellon told IANS.
“In a retaliatory attack, a 60-year-old man was killed by unidentified assailants at Duramari area in the district early on Saturday morning. Another four people were seriously injured in the incident,” he said.
A 14-year-old boy was also killed at Narabari area on Saturday, while three more people were killed in a retaliatory attack in Paraura village, said Gilsellon.
Z News reminds us of a vital piece of recent history:
Kokrajhar falls under the jurisdiction of BTAD [Bodoland Territorial Areas District] which is administered by Bodoland Territorial Council. The council came into existence after the signing of a tripartite peace accord among Bodo Liberation Tigers militants, the Assam government and the central government in February 2003.
TOI reports one view of the history of these problems:
The genesis of the mistrust lies in the Bodos seeking a separate political identity, which range from autonomy to separate state and even sovereignty. Their struggle for separate identity dates back to 1960s. They struggled for recognition of Bodo as an official language of the state, which was granted in 1976. Their hardened stand to attain separate identity made other coexisting communities apprehensive of losing their land. As the accord of 1993 failed, Bodos resumed their struggle for identity and turned so fierce that there were merciless killing of Santhals in two back-to-back clashes in 1996 and 1998, when over 300 people were killed and more than 3 lakh rendered homeless. The last time the Bodos clashed with the Muslim was in 2008, but that was far away from the heartland in Udalguri district, where the dominant Bodos are surrounded by areas dominated by Muslims. The two major non-Bodo land owners in the Bodo heartland are the adivasis and the Bengali-speaking Muslims. While the adivasis have occupied the forest areas, the Bengali-speaking Muslims live on the chars (riverine areas) and nearby land. The population of Bodos, which is largest tribal group among the 23 notified STs, is just over 5% of total population of the state while Muslims constitute nearly 33% of the population.
Two weeks before these problems began, Deccan Chronicle carried an article which pointed out that the history of this problem is complex, and closely coupled to developmental policies. The beginning of this article is excerpted here, but the whole article is worth reading:
It is well recognised that Assam’s socio-political fabric is complex, intricate and layered. Thanks to the active support of B.R. Ambedkar for the idea of Autonomous District Councils, the Constitution enshrined the rights of hill tribes in the Sixth Schedule. As per the 2001 census, tribals constitute 15.64 per cent of the 20.33 million population in Assam. Prominent among them are the Bodo, Mising, Rabha, Sonowal, Lalung (Tiwa), Deori and Thengal (Mech).
Assam has three autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule and a few more are waiting to be formed. Several other groups are demanding their own autonomous councils under the same status. Assam has had only limited success with their councils. In 2009, a delegation led by a minister went to Tripura to learn from their experience.
Since the violence of the 1980s, Assam and Tripura have evolved along completely distinct paths. Could the attitude of the parties in power in these two states have a large role in this? The Congress is essentially a party of the middle class; its attention is on industry, power and urbanization. The Communist parties are more farmer oriented, and have been concerned with land holding reforms in many states. This could be a key to the solution of the problems in the northeast of India. The Congress could still learn from the CPM in this part of the country, but the story is the same all over India: landholding laws have to be equitable, and evolved out of a consensus of all interests, before the urgent need to industrialize can be taken up.