The protest against the killing of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar (Burma) in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan began peacefully but soon turned violent. The exodus by thousands of northeasterners in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune came as a panic reaction. The trouble was triggered by messages sent from Pakistan in the wake of the July-August 2012 riots between Bodos and Bangladeshi settlers in Assam’s Kokrajhar district. Neither of these should have come as a surprise.
While the genesis of the riots in Kokrajhar lies in post-1947/1971 illegal migration of East Pakistanis /Bangladeshis settled in Assam, much enhanced during 1991-2007, the genesis of the events sparked off at Azad Maidan lies in the cementing of the relationship between Mumbai underworld’s master criminal Dawood Ibrahim and Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence in end 1992, followed by the 1993 terrorist bomb blasts in many parts of Mumbai.
The unrest begins
It may be recalled that shortly after the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground on December 6, 1992, a massive consignment of RDX explosives and arms and ammunition was offloaded at Maharashtra’s Raigad coast. Also, there were communal disturbances in Assam and for the very first time in Lilong, 40 km away from Manipur’s capital Imphal, an area with a predominance of Manipuri Muslims. Both these were engineered by Bangladesh-based ISI operatives. On March 12, 1993 bombs exploded at 13 different locations of Mumbai city killing 257 people and injuring around 750.
The targets included mostly crowded areas like Zaveri Bazar, Century Bazaar, Sea Rock Hotel, Centaur Hotel, Air India building, Plaza cinema hall, airport and Bombay Stock Exchange. Decades of illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, into Assam eventually led to the bloody anti-foreigner agitation in 1983, in which at least 2,000 people were hacked to death in a place called Nellie, a few hours from Guwahati.
Those killed were Muslims, accused to be illegal migrants and occupants of land that belonged to Lalung tribals. The agitation culminated in the Assam Accord signed by the central government and representatives of All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was largely an economic package. The Illegal Migration Determination by Tribunal (IMDT) Act enacted by the ruling Congress in 1983, replacing the Foreigner’s Act of 1946, was clearly driven by the political agenda of vote bank. It virtually regularised illegal migrants from Bangladesh who migrated into India up to March, 1971 and even beyond.
Assam, a sitting duck
Peace was bought through a financial package on one hand, and status-quo prevailed in terms of accepting Bangladeshis who migrated before March, 1971 as Indian citizens on the other. The vote bank was saved. Constitutionality of such an accord between a students union and central government was never questioned. This Act made it almost impossible for a Bangladeshi migrant to be deported from Assam.
Under the Act, the onus of establishing nationality rested not on the illegal migrant, not on the government, but on an individual who had to pay a fee to lodge a complaint to a stipulated jurisdiction. In 2005 it took 22 years for the Supreme Court to repeal IMDT Act as unconstitutional. Initiated by AASU, the agitation produced a political party called Asom Gana Pratishad (AGP), and an armed wing called United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which by late 1980s had penetrated all departments of the state Government and developed into a deadly menace, extorting money and killing with impunity.
In late November 1990, when President’s Rule was promulgated and Army launched an attack, its boss, Paresh Barua and close cohorts fled to Bangladesh, thereby betraying that very cause. As I had assessed in early 1992, Barua and gang soon came into the strong grip of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) detachment in Bangladesh.
The ULFA escapees not only became conduits for ISI to enter India’s North-east (NE) region to establish contacts with other violent groups there but also became its great assets for anti-India activities.
The ULFA escapees not only became conduits for ISI to enter India’s North-east (NE) region to establish contacts with other violent groups there but also became its great assets for anti-India activities. ULFA became an effective tool of ISI for pursuing its aim of inducting and settling illegal Bangladeshi migrants in various parts into Assam, raising new madrassas and controlling old ones and trying to convert ethnic Assamese Muslims to fundamentalism, creating communal tension, circulating fake Indian currency, trafficking arms and narcotics, sabotaging installations particularly rail and oil and public services, assassinations and massacres and generally spreading terror.
Whenever ULFA felt the heat of Army operations, its oft-repeated ploy was to cry out for ceasefire and negotiation, only to get respite and reorganise itself. Bodoland comprises the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), which includes parts of Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri disitricts. Administered by the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), this territory came into existence since 10 February 2003, when the BTC Accord was signed between the Assam government, the Union government and the Bodo Liberation Tigers on.
Tribals bear the brunt
Recognised as a plains tribe in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Udalguri and Kokrajhar are considered the centre of Bodoland with Kokrajhar selected as its capital. Involved in rice cultivation, tea plantation, pig and poultry farming, and silkworm rearing, weaving is part of Bodo culture. No Bodo courtyard is complete without a loom and Bodo girls learn to weave from a young age. Many families rear their own silkworms, the cocoons of which are then spun into silk. Assam’s superior mooga silk sarees are famous and expensive as they are intricately woven.
According to news reports, the recent July-August 2012 riots between Bodos and non-Bodos/non-Assamese in Kokrajhar, being referred to as “Bagladeshis/Mians from Bangladesh” and its neighbouring districts have left over 80 killed and about 400,000 people rendered homeless. This being an official figure, no one knows how many more people have taken shelter in the safe zones. Out of the displaced, 2,66,700 are Muslims and 1,11,345 are Bodos.
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They are in 235 relief camps spread across four districts of the state. Of the 235 camps, 99 camps are for Bodo residents and 136 camps are for Muslim residents. Dhubri district, has 90 relief camps, Kokrajhar has 71, Chirang has 62 and Bongaigaon has 12. School and college summer-breaks have been extended. It is also reported that the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) youth have made it clear that they do not want the Bengali Muslims “miyans/Bangladeshis” back in their districts. Direct warnings conveyed to them are that they may return at their own peril. Older slogans from student organisations like the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) are “No Bodoland, No Rest….Divide Assam, 50-50.”
The Bodo movement and the demand for Bodoland were all because of dispossession of tribal land by non- Bodos, mostly Bengali and Assamese settlers. The demand also included recognition of their language and culture. In 1988, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland was formed for the purpose of launching a guerilla war against New Delhi.
Pramod Boro, President of All Bodo Students Union, quoted in media saying, “It is very clear. A genuine Indian citizen has every right to stay where they want to. But out of the people in the camps are also illegal migrants. They have taken advantage of the situation, of the weakness in the law,” During a discussion with me on August 13, former Rajya Sabha MP, Urkhao Gwra Brahma began by informing, “On the night of July 21, 2012, Muslims burnt the Brahma Ashram at Paraugura, near Kokrajhar and destroyed the school property. On July 22, they burnt the entire village Besorekhona, under Gosaighat subdivision.”
He then elaborated, “….It is a political move from other than Bodo community… Muslims are the main community there who claim that Bodos have lost majority… Encroachers including non-Bodo people and an organisation calling itself Ana (non) Bodo Suraksha Samiti have also been recommending for scrapping the BTAD”.
Pramod Boro, President of All Bodo Students Union, quoted in media saying, “It is very clear. A genuine Indian citizen has every right to stay where they want to. But out of the people in the camps are also illegal migrants. They have taken advantage of the situation, of the weakness in the law,”
On Ana Boro Suraksha Samity (ABSS) comments on Bodos being involved in ethnic cleansing, Brahma said, “The ABSS leaders say that BTC comprises of 80 per cent non-Bodos and 20 per cent Bodos. If this was true, how can a population of 20 per cent strength cleanse 80 per cent of the non-Bodos? “Bodoland is a neglected region with an area of 7,000 square kms. Development of this region is equally important as in other parts of the country.”
While there were similar disturbances in 2008, 25 years after the Nellie carnage, on the period till the July-August 2012 riots began, he said: “The ruling party and law and order agencies remained silent…. Tribal people are not prepared to accept non-tribals laying claim on their lands….Rehabilitation must only be done after a thorough investigation of their background/status.”
What is ironic is that both the centre and Assam government led by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi now enthusiastically negotiating with the so-called pro-talks faction of ULFA, whose members actively catalysed and greatly boosted the process of illegal migration by Bangladeshis and also got them settled in many areas by terrorising/ massacring Assamese and non-Assamese-speaking communities during the two decades of Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s rule till they were ousted by Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League which came back to power with a massive electoral mandate.