Assam violence: Is there a solution?

Published: August 9, 2012
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In 1983, more than 600 people were killed in the state and hundreds of houses were torched. Up to 6,000 people were left homeless in one of the worst crises in Assam. PHOTO: AFP

“I have been harping on the point that we should focus more on Assam,” I overheard a friend saying, when I entered the Press Club in Delhi. After a long day of hard work, I just wanted to catch up with friends and not discuss the raging issues of the world that we journalists so often do.

With a cringe I approached the table that had seven people seated around it, with serious looks on their faces.

“Can we talk about the weather, please?” My voice was sarcastic.

“Yes! What do you people care about the Northeast?” came an uncompromising retort.

Offended by the stern remark and knowing fully well that I was being drawn into a discussion I would much rather not have had, I said in resignation,

“Go on, tell me what’s happening?”

It was the July 24 and four days earlier, bodies of four Bodo tribesmen had been found in Joypur Namapara in Kokrajhar district. This sparked violence leading to Muslim and Bodo communities burning down each other’s villages and houses. Within five days, 34 people belonging to both Muslim and Bodo communities were killed.  The arson also spread over to nearby districts.

Close to 170,000 people of both communities had fled their homes and were taking shelter in 121 relief camps opened by the authorities.

I knew my friend was right. We do not pay serious attention to the simmering tensions in the Northeast. This was a humanitarian crisis and we needed to understand the underlying reasons. Since this played on my conscious, I tried to read up about the incident and have been updating myself on the story ever since.

The conflict is ethnic, religious and territorial, all at the same time. Assam is a border state and has seen a sustained immigration from Bangladesh for decades now. It has always been a hotbed of ethnic tensions, as Muslim-Benagli migrants began to cross borders and settle in predominantly Hindu, Bodo areas. In 1983, more than 600 people were killed in the state and hundreds of houses were torched. Up to 6,000 people were left homeless in one of the worst crises in Assam.

While back then the violence was against land grabbing and putting the local community out of employment, the conflict today has added another dimension to it. Today, there are several people whose kin crossed the borders generations ago. Therefore, there are those that were born in India. How does anyone ask them to leave or should anyone ask them to leave at all?

The recent clashes occurred in what is called the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District which was created in 2003, as a result of a prolonged Bodo agitation, that adds a separate layer of complexity in the picture to the picture.

Therefore, the Bodos fear losing power as the growing population of Muslims changes the demographics, and they contend that most of the Muslims are in any case, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

I also read some disturbing reports of individuals who fled the areas of tension this past fortnight. One women had given a detailed account to a reputed newspaper about how she had to leave her mother-in-law back at the house, when it was being attacked by the other community. The woman said that her mother-in-law had put on a lot of weight due to an illness, and they couldn’t carry her when the rest of them ran away from their homes. And, when they all returned after a couple of days, the old lady had stab wounds on her neck and back and the house was burnt down.

This is also a classic case of how the state and the central governments can pass the buck on to each other and shirk responsibility, while the opposition takes full advantage and portrays it as only a religious issue. This has been a regular affair in the power corridors of this country.

I will add myself to the long list of political and social activists, journalists and members of the civil society, who have been warning of an explosive situation in Northeastern India. India is slowly moving towards its doom by choosing to ignore the problems of its Northeastern states.

The state government wants to shut these make-shift camps for the homeless by August 15 as well. Where will these homeless victims go, if not to their burnt down homes?

PHOTO: REUTERS

Read more by Raksha here, or follow her on Twitter @Raksha_Kumar

Raksha Kumar

Raksha Kumar

The author is a Bangalore based video journalist freelancing for the New York Times and the BBC. She graduated from the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University in May 2011 where she majored in TV news. She is a Fulbright Scholar and has worked in various media outlets in India. She tweets @Raksha_Kumar.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://localhost:8080 TightChuddhi

    Yes there is: Send all Bangladeshis where they belongRecommend

  • Parvez

    Never realised the situation was turning serious but I do think you have got a little carried away in the end. Possibly you did this for effect and to grab attention.Recommend

  • Abhay Kumar Basumatary

    As a kid, I remember reading “I ought to love my country amid a circling gloom”….Yes, I do love my country – India. Well, I happen to live very close to these illegal immigrants, a place called Gossaigaon. These people are absolutely scum of earth. They steal cows, rice, jute, bananas, oranges and vegetables. I just can’t protect my own land anymore. Assam Govt does not help us, because I am a Boro (Bodo). If I raise my voice, at best I will be thrown into a jail – worst, killed in an encounter as a terrorist. I have just nowhere else to go. Is this my India – do I still ought to love my country? Recommend

  • fareeha

    Who says minorities are persecuted in pakistan? Why pakistani and indian media are raising hue and cry over hindu migration , if at all there is any migration at all. India is multi cultural and multi ethnic country and it has its problems like wise. But unfortunately , the kind of tolerence and kindness needed to deal with this kind of unwarranted situation is no where to be seen in IndiaRecommend

  • vickram

    There are thousands of Bangladeshis in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and in Bangalore.

    But, they are present in lakhs in numbers in Assam. All Assam Students Union have been pointing this out since the 80s, but they were bulldozed into an agreement which were simply ignored by the Congress government. (Result: Assam riots where lakhs and lakhs of native Bodos have been rendered homeless. Note: here the victims are not Muslims, but the Bodos. If the Muslims have been affected, there would have been a hue and cry all over the world.)

    Congress government in India is a closet Muslim League party; since the Muslims vote en masse for the Congress, this ploy of ignoring Bangladeshi immigration is going on for years.

    The problem is, Muslim population in Assam has now reached the required mass to demand special privileges. So, now, the government can’t send them back and they can’t stop more coming in either.

    In 20 years time, Assam will be another Balochistan for India. Don’t be surprised if some portion of Assam ask for merger with Bangladesh.

    Is there a solution ? Yes, it is blindingly obvious, but the government at the centre don’t want to do anything because it needs to stay in power. Recommend

  • Parvez

    @fareeha: Liked your sense of ‘stand on its head ‘ humour………….. Recommend

  • abhi

    very good article! and now supporter of these illegal immigrants now causing riots in mumbai.Recommend

  • Vikram

    @abhi:
    Sleeper agents are always looking for new projects. Time for new laws to control protests and hold protesting organization responsbile for loss of life / Property.Recommend

  • Jawahar

    First, let us see the problems that we have which are more for us to worry than for these Bangladeshi immigrants like unemployment, water, power etc. What I dont understand is how come these people keep on multiplying by giving (rather producing) birth to so many children when they dont have a better living condition? Moreover, by history, once they become majority, then all others even if natives will have to either move away or die at their hands. This is what has happened until now (it is like camel story of mullah, once you allow them to be in your territory soon you will become a refugee). Recommend

  • gpal

    @Abhay Kumar Basumatary:
    pls send me ur email address and phone nosRecommend

  • jamez

    HELLOW INDIA!.like as abhy said;that he belongs to neighbouring bangladeshis,I am too of the same stock.Remember,I tell you exactly it’s very exhaustive experience to be their neighbour.One can only understand how pathetic peoples they are.Just imagine how this people almost become majority in assam in a span of 40 years,where it has scores of native indigenous peoples.Focus on factors that this people intigrate poor and illiterate(poor in this contex,since they cross the border empty handed or in case little richer with a few spade,sickle for labour).POOR+ILLITERACY+BIGAMY equals boom boom population,and this is exactly the case with baangladeshis.This people normally marries trice or some ten folds with no basic education which add the bitter taste of population exploision which the present world is already tasted the consequences.The basic reason that indian census data being shown unexpected trend in population rate in the last few decades or so is no surprising to totally account to this bangladeshis.This people had spread slowly every nook and corner of the country from assam.Bodoland being one of the most neglated region of the country,one cannot deny the fact that we hardly get any cash rich jobs or employment here and we have to totally depends on cultivation if not then work whloe day long throughout the year for your stomach that with small pay and limited labour work oppurtunities,if either is not working you starved to death.To add to this bitter taste,this peoples came illigelly with empty handed and snatch even our loaf of bread and snatched our land.why this is more prone to bodoland because bodoland is gateway to bangladesh.Bodos cant effort to sell her land to motherland pennyless and dissappeared from the world.And even being illegal immigrants they want to be the boss of other land,they dont want to be under ruling govt.this is how it all went to add up together to the latest violence in BTAD.Recommend

  • naidu vs

    @jamez:
    yes you are right because i have visited several times assam when i was working in nagaland

    our government not taking care of them and they need power to earn money for their family

    congress never take care and never help the innocent people now present government have to settle this issue by way of identification and who dos’t have better to send their country with respectfully Recommend