Roots of Assam violence are too deep for easy solutions

Written by: Shubham Ghosh
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A few days ago, I saw somebody making a comment related to an article written on India-Bangladesh border issues. The comment read: "I do not care about how many Bangladeshi go to West Bengal. You guys are one people. However I have a big problem with Bangladeshis and Bengalis entering Assam. We have never been conquered by any empires of North or East India, be it the Mauryas, Guptas, Mughals or the Nawabs of Bengal. We beat them all when they tried to conquer us. No way in hell are we going to all Bangladeshis to kick us out of our land by trying to out breed us...hell no way. Assam is a tinderbox and when it explodes the immigrant Bangladeshis in our state are going to get slaughtered."

This comment could give an insight into Assam's psyche which boast of a vibrant ethnic nationalism and the violent results that took effect when this nationalism perceived a threat from outsiders.

Curfew in Assam

History of turmoil

During the colonial days, 'outsiders' from Bihar and Bengal were taken to work in the tea-plantations of Assam and they were settled there. The Partition saw a huge influx of refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan into Assam besides West Bengal. In the early 1970s, when the West Pakistani officials started suppressing dissenting voice in East Pakistan, more refugees went to Assam and a large section remained there. More refugees entered Assam in the subsequent years, putting the natives feel increasingly insecure, culturally and politically.

The demographic transformation made the Assamese increasingly apprehensive that they would turn minority in their own land and when towards the late 1970s it became evident that a huge section of the illegal Bangaldeshis in the state had become voters, the Assame started retaliating against the outsiders, starting off a politically volatile situation. The insurgency in the state to protest alleged negligence by the Indian state put the state's socio-political life into further turmoil.

But the recent spate of violence that has hit Assam and which killed 25 people and saw people running for their lives pose a simple question: Why is that the Indian state still unable to resolve a problem that has continued for such a long period? Is 65 years not enough to set into force an administrative mechanism which can ensure a proper rule of law and protect ordinary human lives?

Current problem

On July 6 and 19, four persons from the minority community were killed while on July 20, four ex-Boro Liberation Tigers cadres were shot dead. The situation was gradually turning worse in the sensitive BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Administered Districts) comprising areas like Kokrajhar, Baska, and Chirang but local people said the government was not reacting as quickly as it should have to the problem.

The Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi who is also in charge of the home portfolio, was criticised for not taking the matter seriously and allow adequate forces to be released to man the disturbed areas. The Boros have tried to reassert the same old charge: The outsiders, whose numbers were increasing, had put the natives under threat.

The charge is against the minority community of course, which is considered of comprising outsiders even if such people have been residing in these parts for the last 60 years or more. Those representing the minorities, said on the other hand that the administration was not doing enough for their security.

There were also contradictory versions heard about the July 20 killings. Meanwhile, the crisis went on snowballing and finally exploded in the form of a communal riot, throwing every aspect of public life out of gear. The CM confirmed that 50,000 people found shelter in relief camps.

Govt looks to be not in control

The government, although said it was trying to bring the riot under control, but apparently it looked to be in no position to set a time-frame to effect any change for the better. The Ministry of Home Affairs, as per the Assam government's plea, deployed more troops to the violence-hit areas.

The latest riots exposes the inefficiency of the Indian state machinery in plugging the gaping holes in the process of nation-building and also key border issues in the geopolitically-sensitive north-eastern region, which is marked by a number of international boundaries, particularly with Bangladesh.

Threat perception normal

The threat perception of the native Assamese against the influx of illegal migrants is not abnormal. All across the globe, rise of Islamic militancy and the forces of globalisation have made clash among civilisations a pertinent problem. Bangladesh, today, has failed to provide any hope of sustenance to its huge population, both economically and politically, and the spill-over effects have affected India. In such a situation, extremist political elements in India found it convenient to capitalise on the issue for electoral gains but at the cost of threatening the social fabric of unity.

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