Ethno–Exclusive politics affecting Assam

The BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District) clashes started when forest officials tried to evict some migrant Bengali Muslims from a burial ground at the edge of a reserve forest in Kokrajhar district. On 29th May, ABMSU (All Bodoland Minority Students Union) called for a bandh in Kokrajhar town. On July 6th, two ABMSU members were shot dead allegedly by motor cycle borne ex-BLT members. On 19th July a group of migrant Bengali Muslims killed four ex-BLT cadres. Thus began an orgy of violence and blood bath that spread to Western Assam covering three out of four BTAD districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, and Dhubri district, which is outside the BTAD domain. The house burning, the indiscriminate killings and counter killings had taken a toll of about 100 people and half a million displaced people losing their homes and taking shelter at various relief camps.

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The ethnic clashes that erupted between the Bodos and the migrant Bengali Muslims not only triggered the largest displacement of people internally in post colonial India with Assam facing a massive humanitarian crisis but also snow balled into the largest panic migration of thousands of Assamese students and workers and other North-eastern people fearing impending reprisals from mainland India. The Indian State, instead of providing security, arranged special trains for the fleeing North Eastern people. The Indian Parliament merely expressed sympathy for the fleeing people. There was no concrete effort to stop the exodus. The homecoming of the Assamese and other North Eastern people by the special trains reminded the refugee trains coming from Pakistan at the time of Partition of India in 1947. The failure to protect the panic stricken people by the Indian State will definitely have a long term effect on the emotional integrity of India. Why these repeated BTAD clashes?

The Bodoland movement steamed out from the political movement launched by the PTCA (Plains Tribal Council of Assam) for a plains tribal autonomous region in 1967 which was supposed to comprise the tribal belts of Goalpara, Kamrup, Darang, Lakhimpur and Sibsagar. In 1973, the PTCA proposed the name Udayachal for the proposed autonomous region and demanded Union Territory status. The Plains Tribals constituted (1) the Bodos or Boro-Kacharis (2) the Deuris (3) the Rabhas (4) the Lalungs (5) the Sonowals and Sarania Kacharis (6) the Mechs (7) the Mishings and (8)the Barmans of Cachar. The democratic and constitutional approach of the PTCA did not bear much fruit.

By 1987, during the first AGP Govt. the entire PTCA movement was sidelined by the ABSU (All Bodo Student Union) demanding a Bodo homeland. The PTCA members were targeted and the Udayachal movement for all the plains tribal was hijacked by the Bodo extremist group for a Bodoland state. The parochial and exclusive attitude of the Bodo extremist leaders isolated and confined the movement within the Bodos only. The other plains tribal leaders distanced themselves from the Bodoland movement. Thus, the inclusive Udayachal movement aimed for autonomy for all the plains tribal was lost forever.

In 1993, an accord was signed and Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) was formed without a contiguous territorial jurisdiction. The council members were nominated by the Govt. and headed by the chairman of the Bodo Volunteer Force, which was the military wing of the ABSU. Later, due to the failure to embark the territorial jurisdiction, the BAC becomes defunct. By 1996, during the second tenure of the AGP Govt., the Bodoland movement became more violent with the formation of the Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT). The non-Bodos were not the only victims of the Bodoland movement: slowly, ethnic chauvinism engulfed the Bodoland movement and even moderate and liberal Bodo leaders,which included two Bodo Sahitya Sabha (BSS) and one ABSU president,were killed by the Bodo extremists. Since the Bodos are not confined in a contiguous area and to curve out a territory of a Bodo home land led some of the extremist leaders restore to ethnic cleansing campaign ever since 1993, targeting migrant Bengali Muslims, Koch-Rajbongshis, Bengali Hindus and Adivasis who constitute a substantial population in BTAD. The 2012 Bodo-migrant Bengali Muslims clashes are also a part of a systematic campaign to drive out the migrants to form a homogenous Bodo territory. The Bodo militia used automatic weapons and hence the ex-BLT members are the main suspects because they still possess a huge cache of arms even after their surrender ceremony in 2003.

In 2003, another accord was signed between the Govt. and the BLT leading to the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Council (BTAD) comprising the newly carved out districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. The BLT and the ABSU rejected the demand for a separate Bodoland state and was supported by all the national democratic organizations of Assam. Accordingly a council was formed known as the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) where 30 seats are reserved for the tribals out of 46 seats in the house. Only five seats are reserved for the general category, five seats for open category while the rest six members are Government nominees. This uneven distribution of power in the council has generated much tension between the Bodos and the non Bodos in the BTAD. The Bodos form the largest tribal group in Assam and constitute 6% against the total population of 3.11 crores of Assam (2011 census). But the Bodo constitute less than a million against the total population of 3.1 million in BTAD.

Now, even after the formation of the BTAD, there is no let down of violence. Intimidation, kidnappings and extortions are the order of the day in the BTAD. The ex-BLT members continue to suppress any dissent and even to silence any alternative Bodo voice in the BTAD. Because of their threat most of the victims of the previous riots are still languishing in the relief camps. The ABSU reneged on their earlier commitment and the demand for a separate Bodoland state was again raised. This again led to the rejection of the Bodoland state by the Ana-Bodo Suraksha Sammitte, a body comprising non-Bodos. The non-Bodos are agitating against losing their basic rights in the BTAD. The grievances of the Bodos were met by constituting a council which is still headed by the leader of the BLT, since disbanded. The BLT rechristened itself as Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and became a partner with the ruling Congress Govt. since 2006. The non-Bodos were let down by the disproportionate representation in the BTC. There was no effort either from the Central or State Govt. to change the discriminatory policy against the non-Bodos living in the BTAD.

The 2012 Bodo-migrant Bengali Muslims clashes has set a new trend in the Bodoland movement. Though the unabated influx of Bangladeshi is a serious threat not only to the BTAD, but also to the rest of Assam and the other North-Easters states, there was never any anti foreigners’ movement by ABSU or other Bodo groups in the BTAD. The ABSU movement started only for the creation of a Bodoland state to be carved out of Assam. This time, conveniently, they have suddenly taken up the anti-foreigners campaign and have began to demand the implementation of the Assam Accord, 27 years after its existence. Overnight they become, indigenous versus foreigners. This is after all a good sign as long as they fight hand in hand with other indigenous people of Assam against the foreigners.

Assam is the home of many ethnic groups and tribes who have co-existed peacefully for many centuries. The ethnic groups and the tribes overlap each other and formed a mixed population creating the greater Assamese nationality. But the aftermath of Assam agitation (1979-1985) created much confusion, and agitations by other ethnic groups became prominent. But the government response by enacting ethno-exclusive councils increased the mistrust. In 1993 the Congress Govt. initiated the policies of ethno-exclusivity instead of maintaining an inclusive policy, by creating the BAC followed by another six ethnic based autonomous councils in 1995 under a state act. The creation of such exclusive councils generated mistrust and inter group rivalry among the ethnic people. There are already two autonomous hill districts under the 6th schedule in Assam and the creation of BTAD by the NDA government under the amended 6th schedule in 2003 brought more instability instead of stability in Assam’s political scenario. After 2005, the Congress Govt. again created 18 more development councils. The divisionist policies based on ethno- exclusivism has done much harm to the historical co-existence of its various ethnic groups sharing a common space in the formation of the greater Assamese nationality. Hence, both the Central and the State Governments should abandon the division and mistrust in the name of ethno-exclusivism and pursue a inclusive policy for greater stability and integrity of Assam.

About Hiranya Saikia

Hiranya Saikia Sports Organizer, Former Taekwondo player. PCG member and writer. Contact: (091) 970 701 3718

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