Assam Violence: The Dynamics Of Continuity!
Assam is burning. Widespread ethnic violence for the last three days has 38 people killed, over 200,000 people fleeing from homes to 150 relief camps and 500 villages abandoned. This is the inevitable outcome of a continuous process of neglect, political mismanagement and brutalization making such violence occur again and again in a land that was so serenely beautiful with peace loving simple and hospitable people. The root cause being the unchecked infiltration from Bangladesh since decades.
Assam has been like another India within India with its tremendous diversity in terms of ethnicity, culture, language and religion. During British rule Assam was a bigger state along with the princely states of Manipur and Tripura to constitute the full North Eastern region of India. After independence states of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram were formed out of Assam due to ethnic distinction and self assertion. But even the reduced Assam managed to still retain much of its diversity with numerous hill and plains tribes and the larger Assamese people of the Brahmaputra river valley.
The neglect syndrome started right after Independence with the central government of India failing to recognize the realities. Mismanagement at the local level by the state governments made the situation worse. The tribal chunks of population felt alienated and neglected. The first incident of tribal self assertion was by the Bodos—the largest plains tribe of Assam—who demanded a separate state as far back as in 1967.
The infiltration from Bangladesh had its origins during the British rule when that region was not a foreign country and therefore its people had been welcomed into Assam. They started living in areas and started doing jobs that were unthinkable for largely white collar Assamese community. The concept of large vote banks originated from that time.
With local governments firmly in power after Independence the influx of foreign nationals went on unabated thanks to a lack of foresight of the selfish politicians. They needed the illegal immigrants to vote them back to power again and again. Things came to a head when 45,000 names of illegal migrants were discovered in the voters’ list of a single assembly constituency in 1978. The Assam Agitation started in 1979 as a knee-jerk reaction by the larger Assamese community and it raged on till the Assam Accord was signed in 1985.
The varied ethnic groups now felt threatened on two counts—the unchecked infiltration already creating economic pressures, and the increasing domination of the agitating Assamese community. Almost every tribal group began asserting their right to self determination and existence. While the Assam agitation led to the growth of an extremist wing wanting Assam separated from India the tribal groups too started countering it with their terror outfits. The situation became volatile and extremely complex.
But one solution that could have helped all distinctive communities was stopping infiltration from Bangladesh. Despite promises made in the Assam Accord to deport post-1971 foreign nationals and sealing the border with fences nothing happened over the years. Even the students-led government that came to power in Assam in 1985 concentrated on making capital out of it and never tried hard enough to solve the crisis for which they started the agitation. So far only some parts of the India-Bangladesh border have been fenced, but the waterways remain as free as ever.
The full demography of a diverse Assam changed. One more irony was that the infiltrators belonged to main religions of Assam and they also spoke an Indian language. Therefore, the infiltrators freely mixed with local population and it became impossible to identify who was who. Suspicions on legal citizens created more insecurity and minority groups too started forming along with their extremist outfits.
During our studying days in Delhi University the Assam agitation was at its peak. We had an association of Assamese students there and used to carry out protest demonstrations and to meet prominent political leaders to make them understand the reality. Since those times we have been telling our fellow Indians that Assam is against only foreigners and not Indians, and that the agitation is never communal. Even today in our society in Assam there is perfect communal harmony and it is difficult to distinguish us by religion.
Why Assam is burning now is not due to communal tension, it is due to economic pressures, land disputes, feelings of insecurity and even existential uncertainties. Like on earlier occasions a land dispute led to the riots that are raging even now. Vested interests like motivated politicians, local and cross border terror outfits and self-centered leaders could definitely be the other fueling agents.
The political, economic, social and cultural degeneration of Assam seems to be heading for the ultimate disaster. The future of Assam is at stake. Acton must be taken once and for all…now! Wisdom can no longer afford to be incident specific. One cannot just afford to wait for the next catastrophe.
Assam is burning, Assam is bleeding. Assam is cut off from the rest of India for the last two days. Save Assam. NOW!