Homeland Security

Assam in the Cross-Fire
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 Jan , 2015

The world watched with horror and utter disgust as a radical element of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), in what they termed as retribution, attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar, targeted the young between ten and sixteen and massacred them in cold blood. While we couldn’t quite believe that human beings could stoop so low and be so cold blooded, a fair number were not especially surprised since we have witnessed such brutality over the past year on the part of Islamic extremists owing allegiance to the ISIS, the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, though not on the unimaginable scale that we witnessed in Peshawar. It was therefore not at all surprising that the media the world over, including in India conveyed the pain and anger that the public at large felt in no uncertain manner.

Being tea plantation workers living in the vicinity of Kokrajhar and on the margins of society with little economic or political influence their targeted killing was viewed with little sympathy…

Therefore it comes as a complete surprise at the absence of a similar response or expressions of disgust or anger, either on the part of the mainstream media or of the general public within the country, at the recent massacre of eighty one Adivasis by the Songjit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur districts, more so, since both these massacres, as we shall see, have much in common. It is also worth remembering that while eighty one may have lost their lives, a hundred more wounded and two hundred and fifty missing; reportedly over two lakhs have been internally displaced, adding to the hundreds killed and lakhs displaced over the past decade.

One can state without equivocation that such a situation would have shaken our political establishment to its very core, if it had occurred anywhere else within the country, except the North –East.

It was in the mid-eighties that the Bodos, an ethnic group in the Brahmaputra Valley, took to arms to protect their way of life and to fight against migrant ingress and economic discrimination under the aegis of the Bodo Security Force (BdSF) and the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU). In a partially successful attempt to resolve the issue the Bodo Autonomous Council was set up in 1993 after an agreement between the ABSU and the Central and State Governments. However this was opposed by the BdSF which subsequently renamed itself as the National Democratic Front for Bodoland (NDFB) a Christian group and the Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BLTF), a Hindu group. After prolonged conflict in a tripartite agreement between the Central and State Governments and the BLTFin 2003 the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) with autonomous administrative and economic power was established in what came to be known as the Bodo Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD).

However this apparent attempt to resolve the Bodo crisis in fact led to two serious issues that are now central to the present situation. Firstly, the opposition of militant groups and factions that were either not represented or were unable to garner power in the initial settlement such as the NDFB. Secondly, the lack of safeguards and discrimination faced by non Bodo communities, such as ethnic Assamese, Bengali Hindus and Muslims and the Adivasis, among others, led to them raising armed militias to protect their interests such as the Adivasi Cobra Force.

… there is a need for the mainstream media and political parties, especially the so called secular ones, to introspect as to their lack of focus on this particular case.

It was in 2003-2004 after the Indian Army launched Operation All Clear in conjunction with the Royal Bhutan Army that resulted in major casualties amongst the NDFB and led to a ceasefire agreement that is still in force. Some surviving members of the NDFB, however, refused to accept the ceasefire and formed the NDFB (Songjit Faction), responsible for the present outrage.

In this particular instance the numbers of the dead only tell a part of the story and that is what makes the attack very different from earlier incidents. Local media have given pretty graphic descriptions of the manner in which the militants first killed infants and children and then the rest, akin to the recent Peshawar massacre. In this act of revenge, attacks were launched in five different locations within the period of one hour. The Adivasis were perceived as being pro- government and suspected to be involved in passing information of militant activity to the security forces. It would be mentioning that Adivasis have been targeted by Bodo militants for decades and in fact were the first ethnic group to be targeted by the BdSF way back in the 1980’s. Being tea plantation workers living in the vicinity of Kokrajhar and on the margins of society with little economic or political influence their targeted killing was viewed with little sympathy by either the dominant Bodo population or the State Government and they were in fact forced to relocate in the jungles and became a jungle tribe.

Whatever be the actions taken by the militants, their motivation is clearly to do with local politics and the control of the BTC for financial gains. Therefore while the governments’ launching of “Operation All Out” is welcome, the authorities must review the efficacy of the BTC as well as put in place measures to ensure that the Non- Bodo communities are given their due within the BTAD, especially with regard to financial and residential inclusion. Finally, there is a need for the mainstream media and political parties, especially the so called secular ones, to introspect as to their lack of focus on this particular case. Was it because the group involved in this atrocity was Christian or was it only because it happened in the North –East? Whatever be the reason, they have not done their reputations any good.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Deepak Sinha

is a second generation para trooper and author of “Beyond the Bayonet: Indian Special Operations Forces in the 21st Century.” He is currently a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation.

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