The Current Assam strife

An introductory note & reading material compiled by Zafarul-Islam Khan, Editor, The Milli Gazette, prepared on the occasion of the dharna and all-party conference on Assam, New Delhi, 6 September 2012

The so-called “Bodoland” consists of four lower Assam districts (Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri) which together are known as Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) and are administered by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) which came into existenceon December 7, 2003 following a “Memorandum of Settlement” signed on 10 February, 2003 between Bodo Liberation Tiger Force(BLTF) and the Union and Assam state governments.

BTAD is an autonomous region spread over 8795 sq. kms, with its own legislative body which is dominated by the Bodos although they constitute only 27% of the 2.92 million population of BTAD area, while Muslims constitute 30% of the BTAD population. The Bodo militants were given huge funds to lay down arms and shun militancy but they never surrendered their sophisticated arms which are a root cause of the present and earlier violence by Bodo militants against Muslims, tribals and Adivasis who constitute 73% of the BTAD population. Under the accord, the BTC consists of 46 members out of which 30 are reserved for Bodos, 5 for non-tribal communities, 5 are open for all communities including Bodos and 6 are nominated by Governor of Assam from the unrepresented communities of the BTC area.

The non-Bodo majority of BTAD was never happy with this undemocratic and unconstitutional accord which gave political supremacy to a minority at the expense of the vast majority of the area. At present there are 10 writ petitions filed in the Guwahati High Court against this accord (none of which are filed by Muslims).

The Bodos, led by All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), had started their agitation for a separate and independent state demanding half of Assam, raising the slogan “Divide Assam 50-50” which is still visible on walls in BTAD areas. A spate of terrorism led to the signing of the Bodo Accord. But before it could be implemented, a vertical split took place in ABSU ranks leading to more violence by Bodo militants which resulted in the displacement of 70,000 people from the area.

While leaders of ABSU and erstwhile BLTF are ruling BTAD now, a strong Bodo outfit called “National Democratic Front of Bodoland” (BDFD), also known as “Bodo Security Force”, remains active with around 1000 armed militiamen. BDFD demands a sovereign Bodoland for the Bodo north of the Brahmaputra river. It came into being in October 1986. BDFD supporters are mainly Christians who form between 10 to 15% of the Bodo population. BDFD is allied with the Naga miltants of NSCN. BDFD concluded a ceasefire agreement with Government of India in June 2005. Under this agreement, NBFB agreed to refrain from attacking civilians and security forces. The agreement stipulated that NDFB armed men will disarm and live for a year in camps protected by the army. But they never disarmed and surrendered only some old and useless guns. Despite this ceasefire, NDFB continued its attacks on Bodo rivals as well as  on security forces and civilians. On 4 October 2009, NDFB militants fired indiscriminately at villagers of Bhimjauli in Sonitpur district killing 14 persons. In November 2010, NDFB announced its plan “to kill at least 20 Indians” to avenge the death of their commander Mohan Basu Matary. On 8 November 2010, they killed 19 persons by firing at a bus and in a market. On 14 March 2011, NBFB militants attacked a BSF patrolling party, killing eight soldiers.

BTAD suffers from two major problems:

1. BTC is undemocratic, as a minority artificially overlords the majority. This minority is very conscious of this fact and wants to get rid of as many non-Bodos as possible from BTAD areas. They have tried it in the past just as they tried it in July 2012, by unleashing unprovoked violence on unarmed Muslims killing over 90 and driving close to 0.5 million of BTAD population to refugee camps, a vast majority of whom is Muslim. The refugees are now prevented from returning to their homes and villages on the pretext that “illegal immigrants” will not be allowed to return. Even the state government has now bought this specious argument and supports it.

The fact is that the current strife is a clear case of ethnic cleansing in which Muslims have been targeted. Next targets will be other tribals and Adivasis in BTAD areas. The state and BTC policies will render a majority of the current refugees displaced for ever in their own homeland just as a majority of the displaced during 1993-94 strife are still refugees in Assam. This state of affairs necessitates a re-look at the Bodo Accord in order to make it democratic.

2. The second big problem in BTAD areas is abundance of sophisticated arms in Bodo hands, which should have been long seized and confiscated but the state government finds it politically expedient to turn a blind eye to this blatant threat to security. The illegal arms are liberally used against non-Bodos and even against rivals Bodos.

The current strife is a clear case of ethnic cleansing which the RSS family, with the help of media, has turned into an issue of illegal immigrants. It is now a highly exaggerated issue made emotive by the media and local players. Government figures do not support these wild claims. According to Union Home Ministry figures, there are only 83,484 Bangladeshis in India, out of whom 10,602 were deported in 2009, 6290 in 2010 and 6,761 in 2011 (Asian Age, 21 August 2012).

The saffron communalists want to brand all Assam Muslims as ‘infiltrators’ in order to deport them all or at least disenfranchise them. Today 32% of Assam population is Muslim while way back in 1935, Muslims constituted 35% of Assam’s population. Some of them speak Bengali because their ancestors were encouraged by the British to settle in Assam to work in agriculture and tea plantations. Moreover, when Assam was formed in 1911 as a separate state, some areas of Bengal were transferred to it in order to make it viable. The issue of illegal immigrants or “Bangladeshis” should be treated separately with strong judicial oversight; otherwise it will amount to playing in Sangh Parivar hands.

Read also
  Assam feud between Bodos and resident Muslims: NCM (17 August  2012)

Press Statement issued by a Muslim delegation after visiting Assam, New Delhi, 4 August 2012

Decoding the Assam riots By Garga Chatterjee, DNA,  2 August 2012

Conspiracy of the guns By RN Ravi, The Statesman, 27 August 2012

Hate begets hate By Harsh Mander, The Hindustan Times, 20 August 2012

Kokrajhar to Bangalore By Syeda Hameed, Indian Express, 18 August 2012

The Myth of the Bangladeshi and Violence in Assam By Nilim Dutta, 16 August 2012

Bringing Bangladeshi Angle to Assamese Ethnic Conflict is Disservice to the Nation By Prof. V.K. Tripathi

The issue of “Bangladeshis” in Assam (An Approach Paper issued by the Citizens’ Rights Preservation Committee Assam’s President Nripendra Ch. Saha during the National convention at New Delhi on 6 Sept. 2011)   (then click on See more on this event page)

Muslims in Assam,  By M. H. Rahman, The Milli Gazette, 16-31 August 2012