The recent violence that erupted in the four districts — Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Chirang and Bongaigaon of western Assam, is the sixth major spell of rioting in the Bodo belt since 1993. It is also the fourth involving Bodos and Muslim settlers who are originally from East Bengal, now Bangladesh. This week long rampage, beginning on July 20, 2012, left more than 57 people dead, more than 4 lakh displaced from their homes and about 400 villages torched. The eruption of this conflict was not spontaneous. Tensions between Bodos and immigrant Muslim communities have been prevailing, primarily over the question of access to available land. In the past five to six years, Muslim immigrants have migrated in large numbers from Dhubri to Kokrajhar district specially Gosaigaon subdivision. It created pressures on agricultural land, one of the vital means of livelihood for indigenous communities. The Assam government, the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Administration and central government have been aware of simmering tensions. It is the lack of any action and the failure of state to protect land from illegal occupation that has contributed in escalating violence.
Historically, both Bodo and Muslim population of the area have been at margins of the Assamese society. However, the society at large and a section of the media have been tendentiously pointing finger at illegal immigration from Bangladesh as the main cause of disturbance. The continued influx of people from Bangladesh, however, is a harsh reality which has exacerbated the conflict in Assam for decades. But, covert move to legalise this and to add the names of illegal Bangladesh migrants in the voters list has added fuel to the fire. The issue has further become serious due to the existence of Bodo Armed Groups like National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Though, presently the influx has considerably come down with the fence coming up along most of the International Border, but has not completely stopped. Stopping the illegal inflow is difficult due to a tough and riverine terrain and arduous to construct the fence. Bordermen cannot guard and prevent illegal people from entering, specially at night. Villages are too close to the border, at places even the International Border runs through a village. Before any infiltrator can be spotted, the miscreant vanishes in these villages or in the jungles. The terrain favours the infiltrators. There has always been a nexus between Bangladesh-based terror outfits and extra regional forces with the local militant groups and arms traffickers across the border.
This creates a situation of distrust and insecurity in these districts of western Assam. To completely stop the inflow of illegal people from across the border, it is very important to educate the border population about the dangers of illegal infiltration. All the ‘stakeholders’ at the border like BSF, local police, intelligence agencies, customs, local people have to co-operate and coordinate among themselves and all should be held accountable for any illegal infiltration from across the border. The Assam government should refrain from seeking central forces from New Delhi and should train and cater for enough State Armed Forces to tackle any law and order problem. It should deploy enough forces in the sensitive areas to prevent any illegal occupation of the land by anyone. Lastly, all the sections of Assamese society should play a proactive role in stopping the mayhem in these sensitive districts of lower Assam.
— The author has been a Senior Fellow at IDSA and worked on insurgency in northeast India