Bodos are the victims in Assam riots

Published: Monday, Aug 20,2012, 00:06 IST
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violence Kokrajhar district, Assam, communal, Muslim MPs, tribal Bodos, Hindu groups, Muslim immigrants

Last month’s violence in Kokrajhar district, Assam, which resulted in 77 dead (so far) and nearly four lakh uprooted from home, their humble hearths torched to cinders, possibly to prevent them from returning to reclaim the vacated lands, was both the consequence of the sharply changing population profile in India’s eastern States, and an attempt to perpetuate and entrench the demographic shift.

The Centre’s attempt to negate the “communal” angle by calling it an “ethnic” problem was disingenuous, if not unfair and incorrect. It hardly inspired confidence that the first to meet the Prime Minister on the issue was an all-party delegation of Muslim MPs, lobbying, of course, for the intruders.

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The incontrovertible fact is that the violence involved the tribal Bodos (who have close cultural affinity with Assam’s other tribes and Hindu groups) and Muslim immigrants from present-day Bangladesh, who came in droves over the past century, and are still entering the State in quest of land and livelihood. They have been aided and abetted by lax border security (it’s a 3,437 km long border), helpful co-religionists, and political parties nurturing reliable votebanks. The result has been a steady squeezing of the native population from the most fertile lands, which caused the intense flare-up of the 1980s and the Bodo agitation of the 1990s. But no lessons were learnt.

The current dispute began on July 6 when two Muslims were murdered in Kokrajhar, followed on July 20 by the killing of four Bodo activists in retaliation. Thereafter, the violence escalated leading to a predominantly Bodo exodus from their villages, and the torching of their hutments. To the surprise of their tormentors, however, the Bodos unexpectedly returned a few days later and indulged in tit-for-tat torching of rival settlements. Rattled, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi blamed the UPA Government at the Centre for delayed deployment of forces.

In a nutshell, this seems to be the root cause of the administration’s tardiness in curbing the violence. The Bodos had been driven out of their lands, and were not expected to return soon. Quick Army deployment would keep people in the camps. The delayed deployment plus the unexpected return of the Bodos in militant mood turned the tables on aggressors and administration alike.

Bodo leader Hagrama Mohilary claims that armed Bangladeshis from across the international border incited the violence; Bodos in the refugee camps say they can no longer coexist with outsiders. As Assam tribals and Muslims both comprise formidable votebanks for the ruling Congress, there is extreme reluctance to admit the existence of a deep ethno-communal fault-line. Caught in a cleft, Congress party president Sonia Gandhi has told the people to be prepared for a longish stay in the camps.

The conflict centres on land. For over four decades, government char land, traditional grazing lands, and forest areas, have been encroached by illegal migrants in connivance with district officials at the cost of the indigenous people. Besides Bodos, other tribal communities affected by ethnic cleansing and territorial encroachments include the Karbi, Khasi, Jaintiya, Dimasa and nearly 50 others. Hagrama Mohilary says Bodoland Territorial Areas District is governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and tribal bloc rules and regulations apply. But no one is listening.

First Published | Sandhya Jain | Follow the writer on twitter.com/vijayvaani

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