New Delhi, May 5 : The spectre of ethnic conflict has raised its ugly head again in Kokrajhar and Baksa districts. The indiscriminate firing on May 1-2 by armed Bodo militants, allegedly by National Democratic Front of Bodoland (S), has left 31 dead (all Muslims except one), including 11 children, more than 20 injured and 31 missing. In addition, thousands have been forced to seek refuge away from their villages in camps in Baksa district. NDFB (S) has been blamed for the attacks, however, it is also alleged that the recent attack has happened in the wake of Muslims supposedly having not voted for the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) candidate, Chandan Brahma.BPF is in alliance with Congress and part of ruling combine in Assam. The results of the General Elections are not out yet but the allegation that Bengali Speaking Muslims have mostly voted for Naba Saraniya, a former ULFA commander, backed by the Sanmilita Janagostiya Aikkyamancha (SJA), an amalgamation of at least 20 ethnic and linguistic groups in the region has led to this attack.
NAPM strongly condemns this inhuman attack on women, men and children and the failure of the Assam government in protecting the lives of the minorities. The incidents like this keep repeating with impunity but even then the failure of administration in maintaining peace and security is palpable. In 2012 too, more than 100 people, mostly, Muslims were killed and nearly 4 lakh were displaced and were forced to live in relief camps for long.
The region has been witness to conflict for nearly three decades now in the name of creation of an exclusive homeland for Bodos. The violent ethnic conflicts in 90s led to creation of Bodoland Territorial. Council (BTC ) in 2003 with jurisdiction over Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) constituting 70% of non-Bodo population composed of Koch-Rajbansis, Asamiya Hindus, Asamiya Muslims, Rabhas, Na-Asamiyas Muslims, Bengali, adivasis and Nepalis. The BTAD consists of four contiguous districts Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang. The conflict earlier tragetted Santhalis, Bengali Hindus and Muslims but over the years various ethnic groups have raised their own armed groups too. Bengali speaking Muslims, however continue to face the ire and discrimination since they are all alleged to be Bangladeshis and have become a common target across Assam. The bogey of Bangladeshis taking over jobs and outnumbering not only Bodos but Hindus and other ethnic groups in Assam has been played by political parties and ethnic groups at various points, most recently by Mr. Narendra Modi in his rallies there.
NAPM believes that the aspirations for autonomy of ethnic groups need to be respected and political solutions for such demands be found but then it can’t be done at the cost of the rights of other ethnic groups as is being done here. It is time the BTAD was reimagined with an eye towards resolving the conflict once and for all. This has become necessary since, the current round attacks, mainly seen as poll revenge, is nothing but to continue the political and economic hegemony of tiny elite class within Bodos and pitch poor Bodos against the non-Bodos. It is this nexus of Bodo political elite with the ruling dispensation in Assam which needs to be broken, since the genuine aspirations of people in the region has been hijacked.
We demand immediate action against the culprits, relief to families of dead, injured and displaced. NAPM demands that a Commission of Enquiry must be instituted and role of BPF MLAs be examined in inciting the violence. We also urge that political parties and groups maintain clam and not incite further tension by raising the bogey of Bangaldeshi immigrants in an already polarised electoral atmosphere.
We also call upon all progressive forces to join the citizens protest at Assam Bhawan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi on May 7th at 3 pm and demand justice for those killed.
Medha Patkar, Prafulla Samantara, Gabriele Dietrich, Sister
Celia, Sudhir Vombatkere, Arundhati Dhuru, P Chennaiah, Kamayani Swami, Mahendra Yadav, Mukta Srivastava, Rajendra Ravi, Saraswati Kavula, B S Rawat, Vimal Bhai, Madhuresh Kumar, Seela Manaswinee, Suniti S R, Suhas Kolhekar