August 11, 2012
Shravan Krushna Navami, Kaliyug Varsha 5114
Assam, India : Tension continues to prevail in two of the three recent communal violence-hit districts of Kokrajhar and Chirang where clashes between two communities — the dominant Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslim settlers — have led to 73 deaths and displacement of over four lakh people since July 19.
Kokrajhar and Chirang, which form the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) along with Baksa and Udalguri districts, were severely hit after clashes broke out between the two communities. The violence soon spread to contiguous Dhubri and Baksa districts, bordering Bangladesh and Bhutan respectively.
Although Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi assured that the inmates of the relief camps will be sent home by August 15, few are willing to go home without proper security measures.
“I can go home along with my family but who can guarantee that the attackers will not return. If we go back, they will kill us. Where does the Government want us to go back to ?” asked Gobinda Bodo, a resident of Silbari village, 20 kms off Kokrajhar town.
He further said, “The attackers have burnt my house down. I have neither received any compensation nor has the house been rebuilt, where will I stay ?
The whole village had been burnt by unidentified miscreants on the night of July 23. Bodo who managed to escape unhurt with his five-member family, has been living in the relief camp in Kokrajhar Commerce College since July 24.
The over 1,500 inmates of the relief camp shared similar apprehensions.
The violence in the three districts of Assam — particularly in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts — did not take place overnight. It was, in fact, an outburst of a situation, where demographic change – encouraged by the subsequent Governments for vote-bank politics — threatened the existence of one of the most aboriginal tribes of the State – the Bodos in their own heartland.
The recent clashes between Bodos and Muslims in the BTAD is a repeat of the 2008 clash between the two communities in the two northern Assam districts of Darrang and Udalguri, which claimed over 60 lives and displaced over two lakh people. These clashes are also an indication about how fragile the peace is, particularly in BTAD in Assam.
The unabated influx of ‘foreigners’, which was allegedly encouraged by different political parties in power, into the Bodo heartland, changed the land holding patterns and the Bodos felt deprived in their own land which led to a kind of mistrust between the communities.
“The situation will not improve until the Government of Assam takes it up seriously. The Government is only taking short-term measures by deploying security measures and providing relief material to the inmates of the camps. But it must go deep into the problem to end the crisis permanently. It is not a fight of the Bodos against the Bengali speaking Muslims settlers. The Government must understand that the indigenous people are felt threatened due to the demographic changes in the whole of the State,” said Human Rights activist and Chief Adviser of the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP) Jebra Ram Muchahary.
“Influx is one of the main factors behind the clashes. There has been a dramatic change in the land holding patterns in the BTAD. Most of the vacant khas land (lands owned by Government) in BTAD are now filled up by people whom the locals do not know. There are new villages coming up in those areas even today set up by ‘alien faces’ (read Bengali speaking Muslim settlers). The Government has been telling us that there is no influx, but it must also convince us who these ‘new faces’ are which are alien to the locals in BTAD,” said Muchahary.
Promod Bodo, President of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU)- one of the most powerful student bodies in Assam – echoed similar sentiments.
“Short-term measures like deployment of forces, relief and rehabilitation cannot solve the problem. The Government must admit that there has been an influx from Bangladesh into the whole of Assam including the BTAD. The political securities of the indigenous people are being threatened due to the influx and change of demographic patterns. If these ‘alien faces’ are not foreigners, the Government must convince us who they are,” he said.
The students’ bodies and other civil society organisations of the minority community have, however, termed the clash as part of a greater plan of the dominant Bodo community to chase the minority and other non-Bodo communities from BTAD. “It’s a conspiracy hatched by the BTC administration to chase us from our homes,” said R Ahmed, a member of the Muslim Yuva Parishad.
After the Army carried out flag marches in all the violence-hit areas from July 25, the situation improved, but fresh violence started on August 5 with the recovery of more bodies in Kokrajhar.
For people living in the relief camps in Kokrajhar and Chirang, the continued flag march of the Army and deployment of additional central paramilitary forces have failed to instil the much-needed confidence.
While authorities claiming that the situation has improved considerably in Dhubri, the night curfew is still on in some sensitive areas of the district.
Although there has not been any major incident in the past 48 hours, people are still living in fear about the next round of violence, which according to the citizens, might occur any time any where.
Night curfew has been in force in both the Kokrajhar and Chirang districts with a relaxation from 6 am to 6 pm.