Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 11, March 7, 2015
Massacres Recoiled in Assam: Adivasis this Time
Monday 9 March 2015
by Nazimuddin Siddique
In a series of violence in Assam the latest deadly massacre came in the fateful evening of December 23, 2014 when Bodo militants unleashed their barbarism through the barrels of sophisticated AK series weapons upon the marginalised Adivasi community of the State. The brutality on unarmed villagers was unleashed in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Udalguri and Sonitpur districts of Assam within the span of a few hours. The rampage occurred largely along the northern border of the State. The militants came out of jungles, murdered people in cold blood, torched houses and went back to the jungle again. The troubled areas are very remote and inaccessible without any road connectivity. The attacks came on the Christmas eve when the Adivasis were preparing to celebrate the festival. On the evening of the fateful day, the militants opened fire indiscri-minately with sophisticated weapons on the Adivasis across the four districts of the State. The horrendous and brutal attacks led to the killing of 87 persons including 36 children and 32 women. Many villages were torched simultaneously. The barbarism of the militants surged to the point that even children suckling their mothers were not spaned and become victims of cruelty, even as their mothers too were butchered. A visit to the distressed region revealed copious heart-wrenching anecdotes of this kind.
Post-massacre a massive exodus has taken place and so far 136 makeshift camps have been established where 1,76,440 people have taken shelter.1 Three protestors from the Adivasi community were further killed in police firing during a protest against the massacre. The situation is thoroughly tense and people are fleeing in large numbers towards makeshift camps. Exodus has taken place in the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal too. Apart from Adivasis, the villagers from Karbi, Muslim, Nepali, and Bodo communities too have fled their villages to safer places. The series of recent massacres in Assam, where barbarism has been given a new definition, was carried out by Bodo militants, namely, the NDFB (S) and this cannot be viewed in isolation.
“Post-independence Assam has been constantly witnessing violence in many forms.” (Siddique 2014) The State has witnessed numerous instances of brutality which largely emanated from a significant number of terrorist groups from time to time. Apart from this, “the state violence too has affected the ordinary masses” extensively. (Hussain 2004) “In the 1980s Assamese subnationalism took a radical and militant turn with the emergence of the United Liberation Front of Assam.” (Baruah 1999) Violence perpetrated by the ULFA was at its peak during the nineties and its impact in the State gradually declined thereafter, but hasn’t diminished completely.
Bodo terrorism surfaced in the State during 1987 and since then the Bodo terrorists have contributed in every possible way to keep the State beyond the range of peace. “From the very beginning the Bodo movement was marked by extensive violence.” (Bhaumik 2009) The NDFB(S) is a faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). The NDFB was originally known as Bodo Security Force (BSF). Bodos constitute a little over four per cent of the population of Assam and have been demanding the State to be divided ‘fifty-fifty’. However, the NDFB went one step ahead to demand an independent ‘Bodoland’ carved out of India. In the nineties from the Bodo community another terrorist group, namely, the Bodo Volunteer Force (BVF) emerged and in the later period it reconstituted as the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT). In western Assam (BTAD region) no less than 20,000 people have been killed so far since 1987 by the Bodo militants and in ethnic clashes.2
As the Bodos are a minority in the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in comparison with the non-Bodos, therefore a major section of Bodos are in a constant endeavour to build the majority and this has been spearheaded by the Bodo terrorists per se. Majority-building is essential for the Bodos for it will put more weight on the Bodos’ side while bargaining with the government for a separate ‘Bodoland’. It is noteworthy to mention that ‘the BTAD is now being administered by the Bodo People’s Front (BPF), led largely by former cadres of the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), a dreaded ruthless militant group that once blazed its name with massacres and acts of extreme terror’. (Gohain 2008) The recent massacre too is part of the extended ‘ethnic cleansing’ programme of the Bodo militants.
The Bodo terrorists have separately targeted diverse communities at different points of time. From the history of violence of western Assam, it can be distinctly marked that the Bodo militants perpetually picked up soft targets while going in for massacres. Attacks were unleashed on the communities that included Koch-Rajbanshis, Adivasis, Muslims, Bengali Hindus, Nepalis etc. The worst sufferers among the communities have been the Muslims and Adivasis. In May this year a massive massacre was carried out and ‘...57 Muslims were horrendously shot dead by Bodo militants in Baksa district of Assam.’ (Siddique 2014) After a lull, the militants again carried out large scale brutality targeting another soft target, this is, the Adivasis. What did the government learn from the massacre of 57 Muslims in the same year? From the recent killings, which were largely similar to the May 2014 massacre, it becomes distinctly clear that the government has learnt nothing even from recent experience. In 1996 too ‘... there were severe clashes between Adivasis and Bodos which left scores killed and hundreds injured, while over a lakh of people were uprooted from their homes’. (Misra 2007) A large number of Adivasis affected in that violence are in relief camps till date.
The history of the Adivasis in Assam began with tea plantations in the State by the British. They were originally from States such as Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh. As Hussain (1993) puts it, “they started to migrate to Assam and North Bengal tea gardens in the later half of the 19th century, after they had been alienated from their traditional land by non-tribals under the patronage of the colonial state”. In the face of misery perpetrated by the colonial state, they started migrating to Assam and began to work as the tea plantation labourers. Though they have Assamised themselves entirely, their socio-economic conditions were unquestionably in a very pitiable state. The Adivasis, who are aboriginals of this country, are still struggling for the ST status in the State.
The North-East in general, and Assamin particular, has been home to a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic and heterogeneous population. “Of the various causes of conflict in Assam, and the North-East as a whole, ethnicity has been the most potent.” (Goswami 2013) Therefore, understanding the concept of ethnicity in the context of the BTAD is of much significance. “Existing traditions of inquiry into ethnic conflict can be classified in to four categories: essentialism, instrumentalism, constructivism and institutionalism.”(Varshney 2002)However, in the context of the BTAD “...ethnicity cannot be determined by essentialist criteria. Indeed such criteria being out of step with actual phenomena force on their proponents unconscious duplicity, and even a fascist mindset bending real circum-stances to such theoretical criteria.” (Gohain 2008) Prior to the beginning of the Bodo movement all the communities resided peacefully in western Assam. Bodo leaders are following the same path of the Assam movement where “...ethnicity awareness was encouraged and exploited by the upper classes for political ends”. (Guha 1980) The conflict in the BTAD can be elucidated and determined through the instrumentalist criteria. Theories of ethnicity leave almost no room for class. Compounding with ethnicity, class too plays a significant role in conflict. In the recent trend of violence in Assam, it can be very distinctly recognised that the victims are mostly the poor masses who reside in the rural areas. The politics of identity and nationalism has invited endless bloodletting in the State as Sen (2006) argues, “....identity can also kill- and kill in abundance.”
In the last year Assam has witnessed at least three incidents of extensive violence: 1. Massacre in the BTAD of Muslims in May 2014, 2. Assam-Nagaland Border Violence in August 2014, 3. Massacre of Adivasis in December 2014. Needless to say that these rampages left scores killed and millions homeless. Apart from these incidents of violence, ‘epistemological violence’ too is widespread in the State. The Chief Minister of the State, who is also in charge of the Home Department, has totally failed to maintain minimum order and peace in the State. The government has indeed turned into a complete failure in preserving order in the State. This necessarily raises a few questions. Does the government have any vested interest in maintaining laissez faire? Is it the state that is tacitly acquiescing continuing terror in the region? It is tragie that the CM along with his government could not protect the marginalised and voiceless villagers from the militant attacks. And this makes him directly culpable. It is most unfortunate to note that the present State Government has spared too little time to govern the State and is too busy with its own party dissidents.
The Central Government has claimed that they issued red-alert to the State Government on a probable attack by members of the Sangbijit faction of the NDFB.3 The question arises as to why the State Government did not take action to prevent the large scale holocaust. Moreover, why did the Central Government not ensure timely action by the State Government?
While Assam was experiencing bloodbath, Prime Minister Modi was celebrating ‘good governance day’ at the Centre. Is Assam not an integral part of the Indian state? Doesn’t Assam fall under the governance of the Modi Government? If yes, then what is his good governance all about? Does it symbolise massacre? If not, then how can the PM celebrate when a State bleeds? Is massacre the manifes-tation of good governance? Or, is he not the Prime Minister of Assam? The directive he had disseminated through the celebration during the time of a severe crisis in the State makes it clear that Assam remains in the periphery, and continues to receive step-motherly treatment from the Centre.
Violence comes and goes but basic human rights perpetually remain suspended in the BTAD. The militants run a parallel government across the Indo-Bhutan areas of the BTAD. Almost the entire region of the BTAD is subjected to unwarranted taxation by the Bodo militants. The recent mayhem of the Adivasis of Assam brings out nothing other than the perennial failure of the government.
The conditions in the makeshift camps are in a deplorable state. The chilling December weather, scarcity of food, clothes, drinking water and medicine added striking misery to the life of the people living therein. A visit to the makeshift camps graphically portrays the grotesque face of Modi’s ‘Swachch Bharat’. People living in the makeshift camps should be given adequate security to return to their villages at the earliest. The inaccessible hinterlands of the State need to be connected with roads in order to ensure effective security to the rural masses.
The government should note that the NDFB(S) is not the only active terrorist group in the belt and counterinsurgency operations against only one particular group will serve no purpose. The BTAD is a hub of illegal lethal weapons and prompt confiscation of these from all the groups is mandatory for sustainable peace in the region. Beside the NDFB(S), the other militants too should be neutralised from Assam in general and the BTAD in particular. The culture of impunity the terrorists enjoy must be reviewed. Ranjan Daimary, who heads the NDFB (now NDFB pro-talk), blasted a series of powerful bombs in Assam in 2008 which left over a hundred people dead and scores of people injured. He is roaming free like a VIP and spreading deep hatred in the open. This approach of the government has encouraged terror in the State. The action of the NDFB (pro) and BPF (formed by the ex-Bodo militants) should be monitored closely.
Most importantly, the BTAD, which is not a representative body in the true sense of term, both structurally and fuctionally, should be dissolved and substituted with a more representative and democratic body at the earliest. Elections in the State and the BTAD Council too are around the corner, and this warrants the government to be more sincere, prompt and effective. Untoward happenings should be countered with utmost strictness, failing which will bring more bloodshed in the coming days. Nothing can be more shameful for a State when it cannot protect its own citizens in its own territory.
1. Baruah, Sanjib (1999): India against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).
2. Bhaumik, Subir (2009): Troubled Periphery: Crisis of India’s North-East (New Delhi: Sage Publications).
3. Hussain, Monirul (1993): The Assam Movement, Class, Ideology & Identity, (Delhi: Manak Publications Pvt. Ltd). Hussain, Munirul (2004): ‘Violence in India’s North-East’ in Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Peace Studies: An Introduction to the Concept, Scope and Themes (New Delhi: Sage Publications).
4. Gohain, Hiren (2008): “Once More on Ethnicity and the North-East”, Economic and Political Weekly, May 24.
5. Guha, Amalendu (1980): “Little Nationalism Turned Chauvinist: Assam’s Anti-Foreigner Upsurge 1979-80”, Economic and Political Weekly, Special Number, October, 1980.
6. Misra, Udayon (2007): “Adivasi Struggle in Assam”, Economic and Political Weekly, December 22.
7. Goswami, Uddipona (2013): Conflict and Reconciliation: The Politics of Ethnicity in Assam (India: Routledge).
8. Sen, Amartya (2006): Identity and Violence, The Illusion of Destiny (London: Penguin Books).
9. Siddique, Nazimuddin (2014): “Massacre in Assam: Explaining the Latest Round”, Economic and Political Weekly, May 31.
10. Varshney, Ashutosh (2002): Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press).
1. See Amar Asom, December 29, 2014.
2. The opinion is of experts who have closely monitored the situation of BTAD since 1987. The exact figure is not available from any source as innumerous sporadic killings went unreported or underreported. ‘3500 riots have been reported in BTAD region in last five years.’ (See Assam Tribune, May 11, 2014). Apart from major riots, sporadic killings are almost everyday episode in the belt.
3. See Assam Tribune of December 25, 2014.
The author is a Ph.D student, Department of Sociology, Gauhati University, Assam. He can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org