Karela Fry

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The re-communalization of India

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A major event in the ongoing riots in Assam’s Bodoland area was the arrest of a Bodo MLA on charges of inciting riots. The Hindu reported:

An MLA of Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), which is an ally of the ruling Congress in Assam, was arrested in the wee hours on Thursday for his alleged involvement in the recent violence in the state.

Pradeep Brahma, alias Gara, who represents Kokrajhar (West) constituency, was arrested from his house at Dotoma near Kokrajhar town at about 1 a.m. as seven cases had already been registered against him in several police stations.

BPF is the ruling party of the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) whose chief is Hagrama Mohilary.

This development is evidence for a very bleak view of the current problems in Assam as presented in an article in Outlook:

For those who haven’t followed the story of Assam, the Bodo assertion started in the ’80s and was followed up by an accord, an autonomous council and then a territorial council in 2003. What does that imply? Under the 6th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, educational, economic and linguistic aspirations, land rights and the socio-cultural and ethnic identity of Bodos were secured. The others inhabiting the area were not taken into consideration. The debate on the 6th Schedule in the Constituent Assembly was originally oriented towards hill tribes. Any which way you take it, it did not grant reservation to one community. The Bodos, however, extracted this from the government and reserved 75 per cent of the seats in the Territorial Council, thus denying the area’s other residents their legitimate rights. Thus was born the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), which claimed 35 per cent of Assam’s land. The Bodos need another 15 per cent to raise the pitch for their long-standing demand of halving Assam.

As it is, the BTAD’s birth pangs are still being felt. A students’ movement, an armed terror group (BLT) demanding statehood—and now governing the area—and another heavily armed group demanding sovereignty (NDFB) makes the Bodo movement one of the most violent in the country. The Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), formed in 1996, have been involved in mass murders, blowing up trains (they control the strategic chicken’s neck to the rest of the country), abduction and extortion. The story of their surrender and subsequent joining of the ‘mainstream’ was scripted by the Centre’s Intelligence Bureau. They claim they had no hand in what followed when the accord was signed. The 2003 accord had offensive language to begin with and the surrender was staged with 2,600 cadres giving up less than 1,000 weapons, many of which were countrymade arms. But either the numbers were exaggerated or all the weapons weren’t surrendered. Anyway, further disarming of the outfit was not insisted upon.

The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) was formed in 1986. One faction today is on a ceasefire agreement. If you recall, 26 days before Mumbai 26/11 they had triggered Assam’s biggest terror attack, launching serial blasts from the ceasefire camps, camps which were meant to be monitored by the government. Some 100 people were killed, over 700 injured. Nobody has been convicted yet.

Tehelka interviewed the head of BPF, Hagrama Mohilary, who said:

This is propaganda of the All India United Democratic Front (AIDUF) and its leader Badruddin Ajmal. He is the person responsible for communalising the riots. It was not about religion at all, but he builds up the propaganda and it spreads in other parts as well. He should be arrested and put behind bars. Why did the police not arrested the killers of the four Bodo youths who were killed in front of police on 20 July? Bodos have the right to question this. BPF will protest the injustice both inside and outside the government. The solution lies in sealing the Indo-Bangladesh border, updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and deportation of illegal migrants.

This has been a war-cry of the BJP, and therefore has been taken up also by right-wing exrtremist parties like the Shiv Sena and the MNS. So it is worth taking a good look at the facts. Outlook reports:

Bangladesh border: inforgraphic from Outlook

A diplomat at the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi, Enamul Hoque Chowdhury, confirms there are around 600 Bangladeshis in different Indian jails. But the extent of illegal immigration from Bangladesh, he insists, had gone down dramatically in the last two decades. Had it been a serious concern, he says, it would have been raised at ministerial-level meetings between the two countries.

The leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, however, holds that ‘foreigners’ constitute 60 to 80 per cent of the population in districts like Dhubri and Goalpara in Assam. Bijoya Chakrabarty, BJP member of the Lok Sabha from Guwahati, succeeded in stunning the House with her claim that Bangladeshis were already in a majority in 13 out of the 27 districts in the state.

While the issue of “illegal immigrants” has been raised routinely during elections in eastern states since the ’80s, there is little evidence to corroborate claims of large-scale migration. Whatever migration there was, it was neither in millions nor permanent in nature, as was discovered by the London-based editor (international operations) of BBC World Service, Nazes Afroz, who travelled extensively in Bangladesh and India to produce a series of programmes on the subject during 1999-2000.

Besides, 80 per cent of the over 4,000 km-long border is now double-fenced with barbed wire and flood-lit. Hundreds of border posts manned by armed Border Security Force personnel dot the landscape, with the Indian government resolving to reduce the gap between these posts from the current 3.5 km to 2.5 km. Riverine policing with speed boats and flood lights has also been introduced.

The continued rioting in Assam is clearly a cause for legitimate concern by all citizens. The concern of opposition political parties is justified, as is the concern of some sectarian organizations. However, a segment of extremist Muslim organizations have tried to exploit this situation and succeeded very well in creating panic in the south of India. The masterminds of this major disruption are still at large. Political parties have forgotten this major, but secondary, law-and-order problem and gone on to coalgate. But the problem has not disappeared, reports Outlook:

“This was orchestrated to divert people’s attention away from political scams,” says a long-time resident. “But those who hatched the plot did not anticipate the scale of the consequence.” Adds Bangalore resident Lawrence Liang, who is of Chinese origin, “The exodus points to an underlying insecurity, particularly among the lower strata like security guards.” They are virtually ghettoised in areas like Neelsasandara and are among the majority who fled.

Even in Hyderabad, it was the security guards, maintenance staff in IT companies and MNCs in HiTec City or cooks in small hotels who fled. While the police refuse to give numbers, the deserted look in two Madhapur colonies—Siddique Nagar and Anjaiah Nagar near HiTec City—tells the story quite eloquently. The few locals who live in the area say at least 4,000 workers have left. Extra coaches on trains to Guwahati were filled with passengers, not because they had received any direct threat, but because folks back home were worried. There are some exceptions, though. Ajnabi Das Baruah, a management trainee, for instance, talks of having received tremendous support from her neighbours in the city. “My parents are worried,” she says, “but I feel I will stay on and just try to stay safe.”

Not everyone is so sure. While Karnataka DGP Lalrokhuma Pachau may claim that the police is cracking down “very, very seriously”, Benmila, a student, says, “How serious the police are in solving our problems can be seen from the fact that some of them gave a nine-digit mobile number for a helpline.” Police apathy is what migrants commonly recount and one of the main reasons why the panic spread so fast. Rev Dr Daniel Fernandes, principal, St Joseph’s College, has sheltered 38 boys and five girls because “they are afraid something will happen even when they walk on the road.”

In Mumbai the unsuccessful attempt to instigate a riot on August 11 led to a show of strength by the MNS. Rajdeep Sardsai pointed out how unstable Mumbai has become again:

Which is why the recent violence in which two people were killed and several others injured in street protests by Muslim groups should not come as any surprise. Mumbai has been sitting on a tinderbox for years now. There are, in fact, parallels between 1992 and 2012 that suggest little has changed in the past two decades. The first wave of mob fury in December 1992 was much like the violence at Azad Maidan this time. If in 2012, the Assam violence became the trigger point, in 1992 the demolition of the Babri Masjid sparked off the angry outburst. In both instances, the battelines were pitched as Muslims versus the police, with the men in khakhi being singled out as representatives of a biased state machinery while the media this time suffered ‘collateral’ damage.

The 1992-93 violence sparked off a frenzied counter-reaction led by the Shiv Sena and tore the city apart on communal lines. Mercifully, admirable restraint shown by the police this time brought the situation under control before it could escalate further, but the danger signs are all there. In fact, in 1992-93, there was a certain spontaneity to the initial protests by Muslim groups while in 2012 one notices a more organised pattern of behaviour that is even more troubling. There is now a deadly mix of radical religious minority groups and their political patrons along with criminal-terror mafias that must worry the security agencies. In 1992-93, the underworld did play a nefarious role in the violence; 20 years later, even more deadly weaponry is floating with Islamic terror outfits, well beyond what a D company gang once possessed.

If radical Muslim groups are now better organised, then so are their Hindu counterparts. The Shiv Sena may have split, but its propensity for violence remains undiminished. The competitive politics between the Sena and the MNS has only resulted in more acts of thuggery. New ‘enemies’ like the North Indian migrant have been found even while old foes like the stereotypical Bhendi Bazaar Muslim continue to be targeted. The emergence of ‘Hindu terror’ groups with links across the country is even more worrying as it has the potential to spiral into a cycle of revenge and counter vendetta.

ndeed, both majority and minority communities appear to have lost faith in the criminal justice system. The manner, in which the Justice Srikrishna report inquiring into the 1992-93 riots was literally thrown into the dustbin of history by the BJP-Sena government when it came to power in 1995, convinced most minorities in Mumbai that the state will not act against the Sena leadership. The Senas have taken law into their own hands on several occasions, each time a few footsoldiers are arrested but the leadership is untouched. Equally true is the fact that no minority group leader with political influence is likely to be charged with inciting violence because of cynical vote bank politics. After the Azad Maidan violence, a handful of people were arrested but the masterminds continue to be protected.

The indications are that unheeding state and central administrations are sitting on a tinder box which can explode across India at any time, with consequences as long-lasting as 1992.

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