Assam the very idea of india is under threat

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Assam the very idea of india is under threat

  1. 1. Assam: The very idea of India is under threat - Part I OF IV AmareshMisra 28 August 2012, 05:29 PM IST http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/the-mainstream-maverick/entry/assam-the-very-idea-of-india-isunder-threat-part-i Swami Vivekanand called it the second most beautiful place on earth after Kashmir. Today, the wonder that was Assam is a mass of decomposing bodies, petty politicking, strewn hopes, unfathomable despair and a fear that says: only man is vile. In Assam, it does not matter whether the conflict is ethnic or communal or over land or some other issue. Any of these reasons—or all combined—might have triggered the violence. But more than 90 people (numbers go up each day) do not get killed—more 400,000 are not rendered homeless—because some Johnny come lately—whether a Bodo or an Assamese Muslim or an `infiltrator’—decides to fight the `other’. For the violence to attain such a gruesome character and a pitch that refuses to abate—an organized hand—or multiple forces—have to be at work. See the injustice and conspiracy: Sreenivasan Jain, the NDTV journalist, catches refugees living in camps openly saying that Pradeep Brahma, the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) MLA, fired at Muslims and SanthalAdivasis with his own gun. After the Assam visit of Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, Pradeep Brahma is arrested. Now BPF is part of the Tarun Gogoi led Congress government in Assam—why would a senior party arrest a member of its own coalition unless there is solid proof? But, as far as the SanghParivar and BJP are concerned, this argument falls on deaf ears. Bajrang Dal announces an Assam Bandh protesting the arrest of Pradeep Brahma—and to demand—hold your breath—the arrest of BadruddinAjmal—the leader of United Democratic Front (UDF)—one of the leading opposition parties of Assam with 18 MLAs—several of them Hindus! Has anyone—even a prominent Bodo leader like HagramyMohilary—demanded BadruddinAjmal’s arrest? On what grounds, what evidence are Bajrang Dal cadres making this insistence? Is there any evidence of UDF cadres indulging in anti-Bodo violence? Is there any complaint of a UDF MLA—like Basheer Ahmed—the MLA from Bilashpada—near Bodo areas—even lifting a finger at any Bodo? Are we going to have two laws in India—one for Muslims and another one for non-Muslims? By demanding Ajmal’s arrest, the SanghParivar has just entered the league of anti-national forces like ULFA who seek the dismemberment of India. Ordinary Bodos have condemned any sort of violence. But some Bodo outfits—like the Christian dominated National Peoples Front of Bodos (NDFB)—which still fights for a separate Bodoland— do not like even the BPF. Along with the SanghParivar and ULFA, they too demand action against UDF MLAs none of whom has ever been found inciting violence. The conflicts within Bodos, external funding for the NFDB, the problem of armed militant militias living in designated camps in Assam and the Northeast, who transgress their limits openly and start killing Muslims in any such situation, the troubles of modern Assam since Independence, will be dealt with in the second part of this article. Right now, it is necessary to rise above sectarian mindsets to say that apart from people in flesh and blood, the very idea of India as a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-national country is under attack in Assam. Assam’s composite culture Assam’s history is truly plural. Apart from the proliferation of indigenous tribes since times immemorial, nontribal groups (brahmin priests, kayasthas, peasants, labourers, clerks, government officials, traders, entrepreneurs) from outside the area (undivided Bengal, Bihar, present-day Uttar Pradesh and other HindiUrdu speaking areas) have constantly arrived, assimilated—and reshaped—Assamese society. For instance, Assam’s name derives from a long rule (1228-1826) of upper/eastern, and parts of central Assam, by the Ahom dynasty of Chinese origin. However, even at the height of Ahom power (late 17th-early 18th century), the Koch Rajbongshi dynasty reigned in parts of western or lower Assam. Enjoying Kshattriya status, Koch Rajbongshis split in late 16th century into two main branches: western and eastern. In the 19th century, the British created the Cooch-Behar state from the western Koch Rajbongshi kingdom.
  2. 2. By then, a third political entity—the Bodo-Kacharis—had dispersed all over Assam after losing their Barak valley kingdom to the British in 1832. Ahom rule was truly ecumenical. Early on, medieval era tribes like Barahis and Marans—of Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman descent—became part of the Ahom ethnic group. Then Khasis from present-day Meghalaya were admitted in the Ahom army on terms that they would retain their ethnicity. Finally, Bodos, Jaintiyas, Daflas, Karbis, Rabhas, Lalungs, Singhpos, Garos, Khamtis, Bhors, Lyngngams—even a small number of Lushais and Kukis—were settled on Ahom lands—after similar guarantees. Under Chilarai, the Koch-Rajbongshis rulers of lower-western Assam defeated the Ahoms in a 16th century battle. For a brief period, Chilarai, successfully created another political federation based on the loyalty of mainly Barak and Surma Valley tribes. In the post-Chilarai era, the Bodo-Dimasa rulers of the Barak valley and parts of Surma valley also integrated several Naga tribes in a federal structure. Ahoms introduced—in contrast to the traditional jhum cultivation—the technologically superior, wet rice farming in Assam. Sankardev, a 16th century Bhakti saint, pioneered the Vaishnavite creed that extended till Manipur. In Assam, his disciples included Chandsai, a Muslim, Govinda, a Garo, Paramanda, a Miri, Jayananda, a Bhutia, Narahari, an Ahom, Madhav, a Jaintia and Damodar, a Bania. Under Ahoms, Vaishnavism co-existed with Shaktism. The Kamakhya temple—one of the most important seats of Shakti worship in India—was part of Ahom lands. Muslims in Assam and Northeast India Today, one hears of Bodovs Muslim clashes—it is instructive that Ali Mech—perhaps the first person to embrace Islam in Assam (14th century)—belonged to an indigenous tribe with Bodo links. Soldiers left behind by BakhtiyarKhilji’s invading army in the 13th century, and other prisoner of wars, settled in Assam. Quite a few intermarried with women of local tribes. Also, in the 14th century, a Muslim saint named GiasuddinAulia came to Kamrupa. He established a dargah at pua mecca in Hajo about 30 km west of Guwahati. Other religious leaders like Ajan Fakir, Khandakar Peer, Manik Fakir, Nawaz Peer also came to Assam and adopted the local language and culture. As early as the 15th century, a distinct brand of Asamiya Muslims began emerging with different surnames and titles. During the reign of Ahom ruler SwargadeoRudraSingha in the early part of the eighteenth century, some Muslim families proficient in different crafts and arts were invited from Delhi to reside in Assam and offer their services. These families were Pharsiparia, Aakharkatia (experts in making cannon balls, locally known as hiloi), Silakatia and Khanikar. During the Ahom-Mughal war, Assamese Muslims fought hand-in-hand with their Hindu brethrens. In the decisive battle of Saraighat (1671)—that led to Ahom victory under LachitBarphukan—BaghHazarika alias Ismail Siddiqui—led an Assamese force of one thousand Muslim soldiers against the Mughals. Shah Hussain Khan and Ramzan Khan—two Assamese Muslim nobles—fought against the late 18th centuryearly 19th century Burmese invaders. In the Hadirachaki war, local Muslims fought against the Burmese forces, under the command of Mir-ud-Daula. Incredible as it might sound today—under the successful rule of Dimasa-Bodos—Sylhet—in present-day Bangladesh—close to Silchar in Assam’s Barak valley—emerged as a major centre of Sufism and Muslim learning. Sylheti became a foremost language at par with Assamese—both these languages formed the eastern dialects of the great Bengali language family. While Sylhet’s chieftains became Muslims under the influence of Shah Jalal Yemeni, a great Sufi saint, several other political principalities of the Barak and Surma valley and East Bengal amalgamated Hindu-Muslim, even Buddhist features. For a long time, Chakmas of Chittagong (East Bengal) were Buddhists with Muslim chieftains. Chiefs of Jaintia—located in present-day Meghalaya—believed in a matrilineal line of succession. In the 17th century, a Jaintia chief gave his sister in marriage to the Mughal Governor. Her son—a Muslim—became the next ruler. But his sister married a non-Muslim Jaintia. So when the British annexed the state in the 1830s, it was a mixed Hindu-Muslim-tribal-Jaintia kingdom!
  3. 3. The composite culture of Assam saw Radharam—as the chief of South Karimganj district—resisting the British in the 18th century. Most fighters in Radharam’s army were Muslims. The chief actually was called NawabRadharam! More importantly, he was known as a Kayastha with mixed “tribal blood”! Such features—the co-existence of Hindu, Muslim and local tribes—leading to the creation of a new breed— born out of intermixing and intermarriages or non-conventional liaisons—are to be found in such abundance that it is difficult to classify/separate Northeastern and East Bengal identities. The great Manipuri chapter Beyond Assam, Hindu rulers of Manipur merged Vaishnavism with Sanamahism, the traditional religion of the Meitei people, whose rulers controlled the area till 1947, and still constitute the majority (60% of the total population). Meitei-Sanamahi-Hindu-Manipuri princes carried multiple identities. They were also, often raised in Naga households. Pamheiba was one such 18th century warrior-Prince. His exploits were not limited to victory in warfare and crushing Burmese excursions. Despite being a staunch Vaishnavite Hindu, following the traditions of that era, Pamheiba declared himself `protector of the poor’, openly announcing the adoption the Persian-Muslim Garib Nawaz title on his coins and royal standards! Has anyone ever heard of such a thing—a mixture of tribal and Muslim elements—constituting a composite culture? Why is it that this unique history of Assam and the northeast was not taught to north, west and south Indians? What kind of politics waves its murky hands behind this exclusion? Indeed, Muslims of Manipur—mostly outsiders who settled in the area in waves beginning from the 14th century—and intermarried locals—carry their own Meitei-Pangal identity. The Muslim population of Manipur touches the 9% mark; however, it is impossible to find Muslim Pangals residing outside Manipur in any noteworthy numbers. Under the rule of MeidinguKhagemba (1597- 1652 AD), a Muslim personal law board, under a Qazi, was established by orders of the King. Manipuri Muslims played a major role in the preservation of the Meiteilon-Manipuri language and script, to an extent that even today universities and colleges in Manipur offer courses in Meiteilon. It seems that all over Assam and northeast India tribes, Hindu sects, Muslim Sufis and warriors, Brahmins, peasant castes and Kayasthas interacted with élan. Bodos, Ahoms, Kochs, Sutiyas, Karbis, Mishims, Bengali Hindus, Muslims, North Indian Brahmins, Vaishnavites, Buddhists, worshippers of Sakti, and Kayasthas, followers of tribal deities of Chinese, Burmese, and Tibetan derivation—just to cite a few examples—formed part of this truly remarkable amalgamation of different races, modes of land tenure, forms of worship, imported peasant cultures of the plains and the hill culture of the tribes, clerks and paiks. British rule The British annexed Assam after the first Anglo-Burmese war. The war resulted in the treaty of Yandabo (1826). Due to Burmese atrocities, people and leaders of Assam welcomed the British initially; but then the British raised land revenue and began rack renting the peasantry. Several new taxes were introduced and peasants were made to labour on lands colonized by the British East India Company (BEIC). It can be safely assumed that the British introduced features of European-style feudalism in Assam and the northeast. Assam: The very idea of India is under threat- Part II AmareshMisra 02 September 2012, 06:06 PM IST War of independence in Assam As a political-military force, the British entered Assam during the first Anglo-Burmese war—prior to that the Maomoria rebellion (see `Last Days of Ahom Monarchy’, written by SL Baruah, 1993, New Delhi, `A History of Assam’, written by Edward A Gait, 1906, Calcutta and `Medieval and Early Colonial Assam’, written by AmalenduGuha, 1991, Calcutta)—a fight between Ahom rulers and the Vaishnavasattras—in which the latter got the support of another Ahom court faction—severally weakened the Ahom polity. Taking advantage of the unsettled conditions, the Burmese invaded Assam committing numerous atrocities on the people.
  4. 4. Due to the mayhem caused by the Burmese, people and leaders of Assam, the Ahom Raja, and some North Eastern tribes, welcomed the British initially. But the real, imperial nature of the British became apparent soon after the treaty of Yandabo (1826) between the British and the Burmese. For several years, British officials kept avoiding a settlement with Ahom rulers. After much delay and dithering, the British signed a treaty with PurandarSingha, the Ahom King, in 1833. ManiramDewan Belonging to an old elite family of Kayastha administrators of north Indian (Kannauj) origin, ManiramDewan (originally ManiramBarua), was a vital link between the British and the Ahom Kings. Working as part of the British bureaucracy in the 1820s, Maniram was also given the additional charge of borbhandar (Prime Minister), at PurandarSingha’s court in 1833. Maniram discovered the potential of tea plantation in Assam. He surprised Bessa Gam—a local Singpo chief— by turning up at his village one fine morning, in the 1820s—with Robert and Charles Alexander Bruce—of the legendary Bruce Brothers fame—credited with identifying tea in Assam—in tow. But BEIC Calcutta officials refused to acknowledge the genuineness of Maniram’s discovery. However, after 1833, when the BEIC lost its tea trade monopoly with China, BEIC officials were forced to eat their own words. On 1st February, 1834, Governor General William Bentinck established the Tea Committee. Maniram met Dr.Wallich, the same man who had rejected his samples earlier, as a representative of PurandarSingha. Besides monopolising tea plantations and trade, the British had other evil designs in mind. A 26th February, 2009 Assam Tribune article, written by Dr. HK Goswami, observes that soon after Maniram’s meeting with Dr Wallich, “Jenkins, the North-East Agent of the Governor General, visited PurandarSingha’s territory on a factfinding mission...one man who strongly defended the Raja was ManiramDewan, Chief Counsellor of the Raja. PurandarSingha was deposed in 1838 on the plea of bad governance and default in payment of the tribute and the British annexed his territories." All through the 1840s and 50s, the BEIC administration annexed several states in India on the trumped up charge of bad governance. But, despite Jenkins’ adverse comments, Maniram outflanked the Governor General’s Agent, becoming in 1839, the Dewan of the Assam Tea Company at Nazira, drawing a salary of 200 rupees per month. But Maniram felt suffocated working under the British. A surprisingly well researched Wikipedia entry on ManiramDewan notes that “in the mid-1840s, Maniram quit his job due to differences of opinion with company officers...he established his own tea garden at Chenimora in Jorhat, thus becoming the first Indian to grow tea commercially in Assam...Maniram established another tea plant in Sibsagar. Apart from the tea industry, Maniram also ventured into iron smelting, gold procuring and salt production. He was also involved in the manufacturing of goods like matchlocks, hoes and cutlery. His other business activities included handloom, boat making, brick making, bell-metal, dyeing, ivory work, ceramic, coal supply, elephant trade, construction of buildings for military headquarters and agricultural products. Some of the markets established by him include the Garohat in Kamrup, Nagahat near Sibasagar, Borhat in Dibrugarh, Sissihat in Dhemaji and DarangiaHaat in Darrang”. Here we have—in the person of Maniram—much before Tatas and Birlas appeared on India’s business stage— the first example of a modern, Indian entrepreneur. Imagine an Indian in the 1840s and 50s, establishing not only tea plantations but extending activities to a whole range of goods and products, staggering by even today’s standards. In fact, Tatas began as British middlemen in the China opium trade in the 1850s and 60s. Birlas also started their businesses as middlemen in about the same period. But rather than becoming a comprador (intermediary) bourgeoisie subservient to Imperialism, Maniram chose Independence and the path of a nationalist bourgeoisie. Like Americans today—the British—then the foremost Imperialist world power—tolerated even encouraged, compradors. But they regarded Independent, nationalist entrepreneurs as an anathema. The Wikipedia entry further notes that, “Maniram faced numerous administrative obstacles in establishing private tea plantations, due to opposition from competing European tea planters. In 1851, an officer seized all the facilities provided to him due to a tea garden dispute. Maniram, whose family consisted of 185 people, had to face economic hardship.”
  5. 5. Another Assam Tribune article notes that “As a matter of fact, Maniram wanted to build up a self-dependent economy. Incidentally, former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in his Republic Day speech of 2005 stressed on making entrepreneurial course ‘compulsory’...it may be surmised that what Assam thought 143 years ago ... the credit for this goes to the father of modern Assamese nationality—ManiramDewan”. Soon, Maniram’s “property was auctioned at a very nominal price to George Williamson”. Misery of Assam and the North-East Maniram’s disenchantment with the British occurred against the backdrop of widespread discontent in Assam and the northeast. After 1826, the BEIC had gone on to acquire territory after territory including Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur. Despite treaties and agreements with various tribes, the essential British policies of rack ranting the tribes and peasantry produced revolts. The Singhpos and the Nagas were the first to rebel, the Anglo-Naga war extending from 1835 to 1852 AD. Under British rule, peasants of Assam in particular had to pay three times the land revenue they delivered under the Ahoms. Minor delays in payments—overlooked in the Ahom-paik system of decentralized revenue— which favoured local factors and leniency—saw properties both of small peasants and distinguished upper/eastern Assamese service-military gentry—being attached. Erstwhile lords and labourers alike were reduced to penury. Plus, the British began importing Santhals from Bengal to work as indentured labour in the tea gardens, being set up by the British in both upper (eastern) and lower (western) Assam. By the 1850s, economic hardship became so severe, that apart from Ahoms, several erstwhile Koch and Bodo men of influence were working as labourers in tea gardens. British Impact on Local Culture But the worst part of British rule was the interference in local culture. It was the British who began identity politics in Assam. Large sections of specific tribes—the Kukis and some Naga sub tribes to begin with—were converted to Christianity. British administrators also began insisting on `pure bloodlines’; chieftains with mixed religious or tribal heritage were shunned. Simultaneously, the impact of the Bengal renaissance and the BrahmoSamaj movement was felt in Assam. Even though Assam lacked a Bengal style, pro-British, colonial middle class, AnandramDhekialPhukan began his pioneering work to revive Assamese literature and initiate social reforms. However, Maniram refused to go over to the reformist-collaborationist, pro-British, Bengal-renaissance side, which distorted and confused reformist-modernist figures like DebendraNath Tagore, the father of RabnindraNath Tagore. Instead, ManiramDewan, the indigenous modernist, took the revolutionary path. In a famous petition/manifesto presented before Moffat Mills, the British Sudder Judge, in 1853, Maniram clearly stated Assam’s main problem: the loss of political-social and economic power by indigenous forces of all classes under British rule. He denounced the setting up of unfamiliar, phirang Courts with alien laws, the emergence of the dalaal, the high British revenue, the desecration of royal tombs and temples (like Kamakhya), the loss of occupation, the introduction of opium, and the system of collecting rents through mouzdars (rent collectors—mostly Bengalis and Marwaris from outside Assam). In an almost stunning bid to achieve a pan-Assam-North East unity, Maniram further wrote that the "objectionable treatment" of Hill Tribes (such as the Nagas) was resulting in constant warfare leading to mutual loss of life and money. Freedom Movement in Assam In 1857, ManiramDewan formed an underground network of revolutionaries. His main hope lay in the JorhatSibsagar based 1st Assam Light Infantry (ALI) and the Gauwahati based 2nd ALI. The Assam regiments were a mixed cauldron with Poorabias from western Bihar (Arrah) rubbing shoulders with mainstream Assamese Muslim warriors, Nepalis, Manipuris, Jarrowas and Doaneas (the last two born out of mixed Assamese-Singhpo union).
  6. 6. Especially after the revolt of Bengal Army Regiments at Danapur (near Patna), Bihar on 25th July 1857, Poorabia elements of the Assam Infantrybegan talking about British overthrow and the installation of Bahadur Shah Zafar as India’s Emperor. Dewan’s circle’s inimitability rested in its diverse nature: it included Mayaram and Krishna Chandra Mazumdar—two Golaghat based Assamese of Bengali origin—Madhu Malik—a Dibrugarh Bengali—Ganesh Chaudhary, Umakant and Khageshwar—of mixed Bengali-Assamese heritage—PiyaliBarua, DitiramBarua and MarangikhowaGohain—three major Ahom figures—and Ramdas and VisnhudevMahanta—two sattraVaishnavite spiritual leaders. Thus 1857 bridged also, the fault-lines and political lacunae left by the Ahom-sattra struggle that was instrumental both, in the Burmese invasion and the military march of the British into Assam. The pan-Assam unity achieved by Maniram included UrbidharBarua, MayaramBarbora, ChitrasenBarbora, Kamala CharingiaBarua, MahidharSarmaMuktear, LukiSenchowaBarua, and DeoramDihingiaBarua. BahadurGaonburha and Sheikh Formud Ali—two leading Muslim personalities of Assam—helped Maniram— who was in Calcutta in May, 1857—establish direct linkages to ShiekhBhikun and Noor Muhammad—two Muslim Subedars of Assamese origin—posted in the Nogore detachment—of the Sibsagar based 1st ALI unit. Acting on Maniram’s advice—KandarpeswarSingha—the grandson of PurandarSingha—the last Ahom King— met Sheikh Fomud Ali and BahadurGaonburha. Soon, Subedars Sheikh Bhikun and Noor Muhammad were corresponding with KandarpeswarSingha (also called Charing Raja) secretly. Promising to double the salaries of all ALI Sepoys, the Charing Raja gave his consent to lead the Assam revolution. In keeping with precedents set by Begum HazratMahal—representing Nawabs of Awadh in the 1857 war—at Lucknow—and Peshwa Nana Sahib—at Kanpur—KandarpeswarSingha agreed to rule Assam after expelling the British as a vassal of Bahadur Shah Zafar! Mughals were never able to capture upper Assam from Ahoms. But in a revolutionary, political moment of Indian history, Ahom and Mughal houses united in struggle against British rule! The Role of Bodos and Kochs in 1857 Maniram had also enrolled in the freedom movement personalities like Madhuram Koch—a Koch Rajbongshi figure who owned a tea plantation but was relegated by the British to the status of labourer; Rupahi and LumbaiAideo—two Assamese women pensioners; and Usubar, Laochiklang and MaaluSikhla—three Bodo warriors The inclusion of Bodo warriors in the anti-British, 1857 plot was a masterstroke. Imagine the Indian history in which Bodos fought for India’s freedom struggle under the leadership of Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Mughal King! Revealed in an obscure book written by a descendant of one of the Poorabia survivor of 1857 in Assam (San SattavankiAnkaheeKahani, written by PremDuttPandey, 1957, PrayagaSahityaSammelan, Allahabad), this aspect presents a great challenge before Indian and Bodo historians. Even Bodos in general seem unaware of their heroes who fought against the British in 1857. This is just the beginning; more work—especially with regard to Bodo sources—needs to be done in this field. After losing completely, their Barak valley based kingdom to the British in 1832, Bodo-Kacharis had spread—by 1857—to nearly all parts of present-day Assam. Members of the Bodo-Kachari nobility migrated as far as Kashi (see BenaraskaAnoothaItihaas, written by Shiv Kumar Dwivedi, Hindi, 1962, PrayagSahityaSammelan, Allahabad). However, a large section of Bodos, settled in the Darrang area on the Bhutan border, were never part of the Barak valley kingdom. Darrang-KokrajharBodos either survived as roving, Independent tribes—practicing jhum cultivation not bowing to any authority—or as nominal subjects of the western Assam, Koch kingdom. Usubar, Laochiklang and MaaluSikhla were all Darrang-KokrajharBodos. They followed the martial traditions, codes of fierce Independence, and the religion—revolving around the worship of Bathou—of the roving tribes.
  7. 7. Folk songs—celebrating the struggle between Bodos and Bhutias of present-day Bhutan—survive to this day. Famous Bodo warriors—men and women—of yore include Bachiram, Daoharam, Cheobar, GambariSikhla, and BirgahriSikhla. The song recalling the heroism of Bachiram is legendary: GorayadabradwBachiramJwhwlao Gonggarchubayaphwilaygou (Ride on horse Bachiram Bhutiyas are coming in a body) Interestingly, in the `The Oral Poetry of the Bodos: Ethnic Voices and Discourses’, written by Anil Kumar Boro, Department of Folklore Research, Guwahati University, Assam, the author mentions the depiction of Lord Bathou as Lord Siva (or Sibrai). The Anil Boro article goes on to mention GibiBithai, a traditional Bodo scripture that provides an astounding Bodo world view. In this, Lord Siva is opposed to Lord Brahma, God of the white skinned people, and Lord Vishnu, God of the dark skinned people. It seems that Bodos carried their own interpretation of history that spoke of the coming of white skinned Aryans and dark skinned (Dravidians?) from the western parts of the Indian sub-continent to their lands. Of Tibeto-Burman stock, Bodos not only resembled the American Red Indians. Their religion, warrior folklore, and sense of peripatetic sovereignty, recalled the North American warrior tribes who put up a heroic fight against European settlers during the early history of the USA. Assam: The very idea of India under attack - Part III AmareshMisra 18 September 2012, 11:52 AM IST All castes and communities fought together during the freedom movement in Assam (Continued from Part II) As one goes down the annals of Assam’s history, it’s truly numbing composite culture hits hard on the face. 150 years ago, people knew how to integrate and sustain complex, heterogeneous, plural and composite polities. We had left Part II of this series at identifying the unusual nature of Bodo peripatetic sovereignty embedded deep in the tribe’s economic practice. In India, the initial British East India Company (BEIC) policy in Assam and the NE region was to subjugate different tribes with different treaties—and create identity politics through encouraging separatist tendencies—so that convergence for a common purpose between people of different ethnicities and religions becomes impossible. 1857: Blow to British Rule in Assam Yet, the 1857 war in Assam gave the first blow to the western-British strategy of separatism. It all started with the case of Usubar, Laochiklang and MaaliSikhla, the three Bodo warriors of the Darrang-Kokrajhar area. Usubar used to trade in hides with Bengali dealers. It was on one of his visits to Calcutta in April 1857 when he first heard of the hanging of SepoyMangalPandey at Barrackpore. Role of Bodos and Assamese Bengalis in 1857 Laochiklang’s story is astonishing; as a Bodo warrior, his great-grandfather fought as a mercenary in the Maratha army that attacked Orissa in the 1760s. From Cuttack, Laochiklang’s father came back to Darrang with his family, somewhere around 1830s. At stake, was a blood feud—Bhutiyas had killed a member of Laochiklang’s father’s tribe. After the death of his father, Laochiklang fulfilled his father’s desire of revenge
  8. 8. against Bhutias—but only after valuable help rendered by Ali Bengali, a migrant Muslim-Bengali peasant, who became Laochiklang’s friend. If India was America, filmmakers like John Ford might have created a beautiful western out of the LaochiklangAli Bengali story—of tussle and concord—enmity and friendship—between the wandering nomad and the settled peasant. Ali Bengali used to travel to Calcutta to collect money from uncles who worked in the Behrampur Cantonment. He heard of the 1857 rising from them. Ali Bengali’s information inspired the Bodo warrior to involve MaaluSikhla’s tribe. Sikhla belonged to a Bodo tribe that migrated to eastern/upper Assam in the 16th century, without severing ties with their native Kokrajhar soil. Sikhla’s people worked as mercenaries in the small Sutiya kingdom of Sadiya, before joining the Ahom army. Maalu was said to have carried the warrior might of 2 elephants. After Ali Bengali managed to convince some Bengali youngsters, the mixed Bodo-Bengali crowd of would be revolutionaries, went to Dibrugurh to look for a Bodo Prince, belonging to the Kachari-Bodo ex-royal house. This mysterious figure seems to be Sri Mohemo Boro Prachanda, mentioned by Maniram Dewan in an unsigned letter, translated by C. Holroyd, the chief British military officer of upper Assam in 1857 (see letter No. 8 in the following link: http://books.google.co.in/books?id=JCnLlpHhtUgC&pg=PA95&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false ). Poorabias and the Sibsagar-Jorhat-Guwahati risings th On 29 August, 1857, a revolutionary meeting took place at Subedar Sheikh Bhikun’s house in Nogore, upper Assam. BholaPandey and Ram Sahai Singh, two PoorabiaSepoys from Arrah, delivered lectures. The plan to restore the Ahom dynasty under the overall superintendence of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Delhi based Mughal Emperor and leader of the 1857 anti-British, national revolt, was set into motion. Pages 140-142 of `Urban History of India: a Case Study’, written by DeepaliBarua, mention the panic that seized European tea planters, Christian missionaries and British civil and military officials in August-September, 1857. Major Hannay, commandant of the 1st ALI at Dibrugarh wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Assam detailing how the Sepoys in his regiment—both Manipuris and Hindustanis—had made common cause and are “intriguing” together. MohimaBoroProchanda entertained Usubar, Laochiklang and MaaluSikhla at Dibrugarh and established linkages with Narendrajit Singh, the Manipur prince residing at Cachar who had sworn loyalty to Bahadur Shah Zafar. A wary Major Hannay began assembling non-Hindustani Sepoys from different detachments—like the Gurkha contingent located at Sadiya—to Dibrugarh. In his 29th August 1857 mail to the Governor-General in Calcutta, the British Commissioner of Assam asked for immediate help “to save the province from impending danger”. Accordingly the Governor-General-in-Council despatched a purely European force under Lt. Davis of the Naval Brigade to Dibrugarh. However, just before the 29th August 1857 secret Sepoy meeting, HarnathBarua, the unpopular, pro-British daroga of Sibsagar, intercepted some letters sent by ManiramDewan. Along with Hindustani Sepoys like Ram Tohal, Balwant, Kriparam, Chandan Singh and Hidayat Ali—Sheikh Bhikun and Noor Muhammad—the Assamese Muslim Subedars of the 1st ALI—were arrested. Later, a military court martial sentenced them to transportation for life—BholaPandey and SheoSahai Singh managed to escape. Apprehending KandarpeswarSingha at Jorhat, British authorities caught ManiramDewan and PiyaliBarua as well. Soon several of Maniram’s associates, mentioned in Part II of this series, were also arrested one by one. The Bodo-Bengali-Sutiya revolutionary group however reached Guwahati by October, 1857. En-route the Kalitas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalita_caste) of middle Assam joined them. At Guwahati—led by Paltan Singh—a distant relative of Raja Kunwar Singh of Arrah—more than 100 Hindustani Sepoys of the 2ndALI defected—this fairly big group of Hindustani-PoorabiaSepoys, Bodo and Sutiya warriors began harassing the `loyal’ 2nd ALI detachments sent against them. Chegan and BedanSutiya—as well as MachiramKalita and DeburamKalita—attained martyrdom.
  9. 9. Fear of civil outbreaks in middle and eastern/upper Assam areas immobilized the naval force under Lt. Davis that arrived at Dibrugarh on 2nd October. Madhuram Koch, a proud Koch Rajbongshi village headman, now working as a labour contractor, led the labour discontent. 1857 in Meghalaya, Manipur and other areas of North-East Citing new documentary evidence, an article written by David Syiemlieh, published in the 15th June 2007 issue of People’s Democracy, discusses 1857 events in North-East and East Bengal: “when news of the mutiny at Meerut reached Chittagong in November that year, three hundred sepoys of the 34th Native Infantry posted in the port town mutinied...from Sylhet they entered Cachar where the Sylhet Light Infantry confronted them...at Latu a battle took place...Major Byng, the Commandant of the Sylhet Light Infantry was killed...the mutineers were able to get the support of a number of Manipuri princes” (http://pd.cpim.org/2007/0715/07152007_1857.htm). Then part of the Sylhet district, Latu came under Karimganj district of Assam, India after partition. Till today, 26 graves of brave Hindu and Muslim soldiers like Rizbul Khan, Sher Khan, Shamsher Khan and Ayodhya Prasad Singh—all 34th BNI Sepoys from Orissa, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh—can be seen at the battle site. Jaintia and Khasi chiefs from Meghalaya—smarting under the tyranny of treaties imposed by British authorities—also began sending emissaries to establish contacts both with 34th BNI Sepoys and the Laochakling led Guwahati band. WJ Allen, Judge of the Board of Revenue, entrusted by the British establishment to report on the administration of the Cherra Political Agency cites specifically the case of Raja Rajendra Singh, the former Jaintia Raja, who was planning an uprising in consort with the Cherra Syiem (chief). According to Allen, “the Government’s first reaction to this report was that Rajendra Singh should be seized if possible and that he be sent to Calcutta (http://pd.cpim.org/2007/0715/07152007_1857.htm)”. Apart from Jaintias, Khasis of Meghalaya had also fought the British in the pre-1857 phase. In the 1820s, U Tirot Sing, the Khasi king of Khadsawphra Syiemship, locked horns with the British over construction of a road supposed to link Brahmaputra valley with the Surma valley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tirot_Sing). The Singhpos of Assam and present-day Arunachal Pradesh had also tried to help Ahom aristocrats like GomadharKonwar, RupachandKonwar, PiyaliBarphukan and JuramDhingiaBarua during the 1828-29 antiBritish rebellion in upper Assam. 34th BNI Sepoys and the Guwahati band—who quickly ran out of resources—were able to make a gallant stand against the well equipped, formidable Sylhet Light Infantry—plus British army detachments— accompanied by pro-British Kuki levies—in two battles fought in the Hailakandi area—in late December, 1857. In January 1858—along with Narendrajit Singh—the Cachar based Manipuri Prince—the Guwahati band and 34thBNI Sepoys—plus several other tribal forces which had joined them en route—entered Manipur. There, with the active cooperation of Pangal Muslims of Manipur, another chapter of the 1857 war began that lasted till the Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891. Back in the Barak valley, Gonjer Ali, the Zamindar of Pratapgarh, and Ghaus Ali Khan, the Zamindar of Pritampashawere punished for helping anti-British warriors. The Dibrugarh rising In February 1858, ManiramDewan and PiyaliBarua were hanged at Jorhat jail after a brief trial—immediately, under the leadership of Madhuram Koch, tea plantation workers struck work in Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Sibsagar. It was only after the arrest of Madhuram Koch that the British were able to restore `normalcy’. At Dibrugarh, where Lt. Davis’ detachment stood isolated amidst a rising sea of hostility, British soldiers snapped. Dibrugarh fell victim to a massive hike in prices of essential commodities; after drunk sailors began assaulting the civil population in the immediate aftermath of the Jorhat hangings, Dibrugarh people rose in rebellion.
  10. 10. The Late 19th Century in Assam In the post-1857 period, peasant outbreaks became endemic. The 1861 Phulaguri-Nowgong uprising was followed by fairly large peasant uprising in Kamrup (Rangiya and Lachima) and Darrang (Pathuraghat) in the 1890s. Several Marwari brokers, revenue collectors appointed by the British, and Police officials were killed. At the socio-political level, JagganathBarua, a tea planter, established the Jorhat SarvajanikSabha in 1875. RadhanathChangkakati attended the 1887 Madras session of the Indian National Congress (INC). Haridas Ray, a substantial cultivator, participated in the 1889 Bombay session. MeghnathBannerjee, a Hindu-Bengali medical practitioner represented Assam in the 1892 Nagpur session. Assam became a separate province in 1873; writings in Assamese went hand in hand with Bengali in the region. The two languages were hailed as sisters. Mafijuddin Ahmed and Zainur Ali were part of the litterateurth professional class of the late 19th and early 20 century. BhabakantaBarua, ManiramDewan’s grandson, started Durga Puja celebrations in Dibrugarh, Assam; with generous help from Muslim and Bengali friends, Bhabakant built a common hall for mass celebration at Panch Ali, Dibrugarh. North-East in the late 19th Century In Meghalaya, earlier, immediately after 1857, Rajendra Singh’s followers—the Dolois and Sirdas the BEIC tried to lure—confronted the British in 1860 under the leadership of U Kiang Nongbah (http://www.easternpanorama.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=347:kiang-nongbah&catid=26:august-.). Led by, Pa Togan Nengminza in 1872, Garos began an armed struggle. Then, in the 1890s, at Mizoram, Ropuiliani, the first woman chief of Mizoram, inherited the anti-British tradition of 1850s Mizo warriors like Mora and his sons (http://www.easternpanorama.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=346&catid=5&Itemid=8). Restlessness in present-day Arunachal Pradesh saw TajiMideren, leader of the Mishmi tribe, killing three British officers near the Dikran River in 1905. Taji died on the gallows at Tezpur in 1918. Assam was dragged into the 1906 partition of Bengal controversy by the British. British Assam authorities tried dividing people on communal-regional lines. Assam in the 20th Century Assam retained its status as an Independent province. But the damage had been done. By the 1910s, Bengalis and Assamese were celebrating Durga Puja separately; the Lucknow pact of 1916 between Mahatama Gandhi and Ali Brothers—and the subsequent growth of mass level nationalism—revived elements of unity. Forces in Assam—represented by the Assam Association (formed in 1906)—who flirted with the idea of staying aloof from the INC—understood that the province’s interests would be served best if they joined the national mainstream. Formed in 1916, the Assam Students Conference took the lead during the Non-Cooperation movement. By 1921, Assam Congress Provincial Congress Committee came under the leadership of Prasanna Kumar Barua and MaulaviFaiznur Ali. In August, 1921, Mahatama Gandhi paid his first visit to Assam. He landed in Dibrugarh. Ali brothers, Azad Sobhani and Jamnalal Bajaj accompanied him. Ali brothers addressed Muslims and Jamnalal Bajaj held meetings with Marwaris, looked upon with suspicion by the local populace because of their pro-British role in 1857. During the Non-cooperation movement, Tarun Ram Phukan and BishnuramMedhi (a member of the Kalita caste and Assam’s second post-Independence Chief Minister) emerged as new leaders in Assam. By the early 20thcentury, Ahoms—who once ruled upper Assam—had been reduced to the backward status. But in 1921-
  11. 11. 22, the Secretary of the DibrugarhAhom association took over as the President of the local Congress Committee. ArjunGhatowar, a tea garden labourer of the Dibru-Darrang Tea Estate, emerged as a labour leader with Congress leanings. Massive labour strikes hit upper Assam as ArjunGhatowar was arrested. The abrupt withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation Movement by Mahatama Gandhi proved catastrophic for communal harmony in India. But in Assam, communal harmony received a boost because of the strong roots of Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind. Formed in 1919 this organization of Muslims of the reformist-progressive Waliullahite (not Wahabi) Deobandi School spoke in favour of Hindu-Muslim unity. Jamiat also, was against the Muslim League and what would later, in the 1930s, take the shape of the pernicious `two nation theory’. The Civil Disobedience movement (1930-1934) was a relatively smooth affair in Assam. North-East in the 20th Century In the 1920s and 1930s, revolutionary enthusiasm reached a feverish pitch in present-day Nagaland. The messianic movement unleashed by HaipouJadonang combined religious, social and political activities; the concept of a `Naga Raj’ gained credence. On 29thAugust, 1931, Jadonang was hanged; the mantle of Naga leadership was picked by Rani Gaidinliu, a charismatic girl-revolutionary who joined the Naga movement in 1929, when she was only 13. By the time she turned 16 in 1932, Gaidinliu had achieved cult status. In that very year, she was captured by the British and sentenced for life. In 1937, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited Gaidinliu in Shillong Jail, and personally gave her the `Rani’ title. 1940s in Assam and the Barak Valley In Assam, formation of the Syed Sadullah (Muslim League) led coalition Government in Assam after elections following the 1935 Government of India Act, did little to calm grassroots unrest. The emergence of a second coalition government under GopinathBardoloi, the Congress leader, was too short-lived to do anything substantial. In this vacuum, labour movements and Communist Party tactics began gaining momentum. KedarnathGoswami, the Socialist President of the Dibrugarh Congress Committee, led strikes of steamer ghat workers against the Assam Railway and Trading Company. A new generation of Congress leaders with Socialist-Communist leanings—like BenoyBhushanChakravarty and NilmaniBarthakur—gained credence. In 1938, strike by Tea workers spread to twenty one gardens leading to panic amongst the European Planters. Incredibly, in 1939, even the non-unionised Digboi oil refinery workers resorted to a strike. Chowka Singh, a follower of Subhash Chandra Azad, had been mobilising oil refinery workers for some time. JawahalLal Nehru also gave speeches at Digboi condemning capitalist exploitation. The oil sector strike began in 1939 and was so successful that eight platoons of Assam Rifles had to be brought in to crush it. The tumultuous era was here to stay; during the Quit India Movement students attacked several symbols of government, uprooted telegraph lines, exploded bombs, and conducted underground operations. The 1942 Quit India movement martyr’s list includes names such as Madan Chandra Burman and ReutaramBodo (both tribals) of Palasbari, LakshamikantHazarika, ThagiramSut, BolaramSut and BogeshwariPhukanan of Burhampur, KhahuliNath, and seven others, of Dhekiajuli. Women comrades were at the forefront in 1942. The martyrdom of teenager Kanaklata at Gahpur and several others is still remembered with pride. It is instructive that Muslim freedom fighters like Abdul MutlibMazumdar prevented the inclusion of the Barak valley into East Pakistan. They opposed the Muslim League tooth and nail. The nation and people of Assam owe a debt to such personalities. Assam: Illegal immigration is not the issue
  12. 12. AmareshMisra 19 September 2012, 10:21 AM IST Assam: The very idea of India under attack - Part IV (Continued from Part III) Barring Sikkim, the British India Assam province (formed in 1873 and then again in 1912 after a 6 year, unsuccessful merger with East Bengal during the failed British move to divide Bengal in 1906) comprised all areas of today’s North-East region of India. Post-1947, from 1960s onwards, when Nagaland acquired separate statehood, Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh achieved statehood, through an intricate process, that reached fruition only by the late 1980s. Undivided Assam was home to 200 tribes out of the 430 recognised tribes in India. Back then, an estimated 25 per cent of the North-East's 31 million inhabitants belonged to tribal groups. Presently, Scheduled Tribes (comprising of 23 notified groups), form 13 per cent of Assam’s population (around 30 million). Out of the total ST population, Bodos constitute 40.9 per cent, making them the single largest tribal component of Assam’s tribal mosaic that includes a host of plains and hill STs like Miris, Karbis, Rabhas, Kacharis, Lalungs, Barmans, Borokachars, Deoris, Hajais, Mechs, Dimasas, Hajongs, Singhphhos, Khamptis, Garos, Chakmas, Hmars, Khasis, Jaintias, Syntengs, Lyngngams, and Kukis. The 1980s in Assam In the 1980s, the All Assam Students Union (AASU), began a movement targeted specifically against nonAssamese, chiefly Bengali and Hindi-Urdu speaking Hindus and Muslims. The AASU metamorphosed into the Assam GanaParishad (AGP), which ruled Assam for two terms and joined the BJP dominated NDA Government from 1998-2004. Despite holding initial promise—like addressing Assam’s backwardness—the AASU led movement degenerated into chauvinism. Thousands of Bengali Muslim men, women and children, living since ages in Assam, were killed in the horrific Nellie massacre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nellie_massacre). Complex factors— including the dubious role of forces bearing loose affiliation with AASU or downright communal entities like RSS that had infiltrated both the Assam state machinery and AASU—lay behind Nellie. The massacre marked the grim culmination of the identity politics of the era, started by the British in the 1830s. Since Nellie, displacement of alleged `migrants’ became widespread all over the North-East. Following is a list of displaced communities in post-Independence Assam, given by M BurhanuddinQasmi, a Mumbai based Assamese intellectual, in an article written for the `Radiance Weekly’: (a) Na-Asamiya or the New Assamese Muslims, Bengalis, Santhals and Nepalis from Assam; (b) the Bengalis from Tripura, (c) the Reangs from Mizoram; (d) the Nagas, Paite and Kukis from Manipur, (e) Chakmas from Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram (http://www.radianceweekly.com/64/629/presidential-elections/2007-06-24/notheast/story-detail/northeasta-tale-of-apathy-ithousands-living-under-open-sky-for-14-years.html) Bodos began demanding a separate State from 1980s onwards. Broadly, there were two components—mass and armed struggle—in the Bodo movement. Initially, organizations like All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) were joined in by several Bodo underground groups. Details of the internecine fight between Bodo groups—leading to several assassinations of Bodo leaders by Bodos themselves—are beyond the scope of this article (seehttp://frontlineonnet.com/stories/20120824291601000.htm). But it can be safely assumed that led by HagramyMohilary, the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) emerged as the dominant group by 2003. Earlier, the Government of Assam and India had signed a Bodo peace accord in 1993 with the then leading Bodo outfits. Later, in the 1990s, other Bodo groups—including the BLT—denounced the accord and resumed armed struggle. In 1998, severe BodoVs non-Bodo violence erupted in lower Assam. Bengali Hindus were killed in large numbers. The 2003 BTC accord
  13. 13. In 2003, a new accord initiated by the NDA Government (with the approval of the Tarun Gogoi led Congress Government in Assam), created a Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) having power over 40 subjects—excluding law and order—in four contiguous quarters of Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalgiri and Chirang, forming a compact 27,100 square kilometre Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BATD) area. These four boroughs in turn, were created out of the eight districts of Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon,Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamrup, Darrang and Sonitpur of lower Assam. The BATD thus comprised almost 35% of the total land area in the Assam State. The Sixth Schedule in the Indian Constitution provides for the creation of autonomous districts/areas/regions/councils within a State. Assam already has functioning autonomous councils in North Cachar Hills and KarbiAnglong in Assam’s Barak valley. But the 2003 NDA Government included a strange clause in the BTC agreement. Clause 4.1 of the agreement says that “provision of Para 1(2) of Sixth Schedule regarding Autonomous Regions will not be applicable to BTC” (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/assam/documents/papers/memorandum_feb02.htm) Now, if one looks at the Sixth Schedule, the said Para allows for formation of autonomous regions within autonomous Districts in areas where several tribes live together. Bodos make up for 30% of the total population in the four districts and 3082 villages marked as coming within the BTAD. Clause 3.2 of the BTC agreement says that 95 villages—apart from the 3082 already included—would also form part of BTAD— provided they possess “not less than 50%”of tribal population. It is these 95 villages where violence is rearing its head again and again. One can see why—tribal population of these villages is well below 50%. According to some estimates tribal population is as low 25% in these villages. The BTC agreement specifically states that no Indian/ non-tribal citizen shall be barred from inheriting or purchasing land in the BTAD areas. So owning property by non-tribal people in BTAD is legal. Severe lacuna in the BTC agreement can be seen in two respects. First, though the agreement is specifically with the Bodos, a general definition of the tribal population has been mentioned in an indiscriminate manner. In fact, though rights of non-tribals are classified, tribes other than Bodos living in the BTAD areas have not been specified in terms of their rights and privileges. It was this lacuna that led to the 2008 violence, where Bodo groups attacked SanthalAdivasis of Bengali-Bihari origin who have been living in lower Assam for the past 50-100 years. One may infer from this that the 2003 BTC agreement gave preferential treatment to Bodos. The politics of that period—wherein the BJP led NDA Government was trying to woo Bodos as a political force—definitely played a part. It is instructive that it was during NDA rule—with RSS backing—that British era identity politics was given a formal, legislative shape. Problems of the RSS mindset Bodoland politics expose the RSS mindset. The RSS likes to projects itself as a `nationalist’ force and an `uncompromising’ pillar of Indian unity and integrity (ektaaurakhandata). But the RSS believes in xenophobicright reactionary-chauvinistic—not democratic—nationalism. In the Indian context, where diverse polities with different ethnicities operate, RSS often finds itself in the classic Catch 22 situation. Its adherence to a larger, homogenous- prejudicial idea of India comes in conflict with the variety of right reactionary sub-nationalisms that attract it naturally! An alliance between a national and a regional right reactionary force is obvious—as was seen in the 2003 understanding of the NDA with BLT cadres. At the same time, this unity represents a contradiction because the regional right reactionary trend tends to gravitate towards separatism. And separatism of any form corrodes the very idea of monolithic India that the RSS seeks to champion! ULFA also after all is a product of AASU and AGP type politics, which has a clear cut alliance with the BJP. The Bodo situation reveals not only the limitations—but the anti-national element—of RSS type thinking. Why is it that other, democratic movements for autonomy in Assam—like the JayantaRongpi led undivided ASDC in KarbiAnglong— never ever sided with the RSS or the BJP?
  14. 14. The current BTC comprises of 40 elected and 6 nominated (by the governor of Assam) members. Out of 40 elected seats, 30 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (not Bodos exclusively), 5 for non-tribal communities and 5 are left open for all sections. The agreement provides for a 12 member Executive Council with adequate representation for non-tribal communities. Currently, HagramaMohilary—the erstwhile chief/militant of BLT— is BTC’s Chief Executive. Roots of the current violence in Assam But what is the hidden truth behind current violence in Assam? The BTC agreement clearly states Bodo militias and other armed groups will surrender their arms. Law and order in BTAD does not come under BTC jurisdiction. But the fact is that several Bodo militants were allowed to keep their arms. A strange political practice has caught root in Assam and the North-East. When one militant group— representing a certain ethnic identity—enters into an agreement with the Government of Assam or India or both—another one sprouts in no time. It can be said that insurgency has become a form of employment in Assam, a State which records one of the highest unemployment figures in India. Otherwise also, thekedaari— grabbing road and other government contracts—is one of the most lucrative businesses—something which young people easily take to due to lack of an alternative—in Assam. Several ex-militants enter into thekedaari after joining the mainstream. One of reasons behind the current violence is actually a petty conflict between two thekedaars who used to work together in the BTC area. Individual violence in this instance seems to have led to chain reactions that in time acquired dimensions of colossal human tragedy (death of more than 100 and the displacement of over 400,000)! Right after the 2003 BTC agreement with the BLT, a little known outfit formed in the mid-1980s—the National Democratic Front of Bodos (NDFB)—began a struggle aimed at establishing Bodoland, a sovereign country. At one point, the NDFB occupied terrorist camps in South Bhutan. The Indian army had to conduct intensive operations with the co-operation of the Bhutan Government. Strange Phenomenon of Militant Camps In 2005, a `ceasefire’ agreement was reached between the NDFB and the Assam Government. According to this agreement, NDFB militants—holding arms—were confined to camps in certain designated areas. The Indian army was supposed to protect these designated camps and armed militants were not allowed to cross marked geographical boundaries. Similar designated militant camps—with full Government protection—exist all over North-East. Kuki and Naga militants—responsible for the butchering of hundreds of Manipuris—have also lived in such designated camps. In 2005, in the KarbiAnglong area, Dima militants killed and displaced hundreds of Karbis. Most of Dima attackers emerged from the designated DimaHalamDaoga (DHD) camps. Led by PrithviMajhi, the then Assam assembly speaker, an investigative team specifically blamed the DHD designated camp at Dhansari in a mixed Karbi-tribal area as being the main cause of atrocities perpetrated on Karbis (http://www.cpiml.org/liberation/year_2005/december_05/karbi_anlang_update.htm). th The 25 October 2005 issue of the The Telegraph quoted Raj Bhavan sources as pointing the needle of suspicion in the direction of G. C. Langthasa, the then Assam minister of Hill areas, mines and minerals, animal husbandry, veterinary and PWD. The Telegraph article further wrote that “Langthasa is under suspicion for visiting DimaHalamDaoga (DHD) camps in KarbiAnglong just before the violence escalated”! During the current violence, Prafulla Brahma and other Bodo leaders were seen visiting designated NDFB camps. Both BLT and the NDFB clashed several times in the 2003 period. Before 1990, most Bodos were Hindus. Now unofficial figures claim that the rise of Christian missionaries in the area has resulted in more than 15% Bodos being converted to Christianity. The NDFB is supposed to be dominated by Christian Bodos— so, by encouraging separatist tendencies, RSS—the arch `Hindu’ organization—has actually weakened Hinduism and given a fillip to Christianity!
  15. 15. In 2006, HagramaMohilary formed the BodoPeoples Front to contest elections. In the 2011 assembly elections, BPF worked as a Congress ally. BPF even has a Minister in the present Gogoi cabinet. While concluding it is important to bear in mind Assam’s history and the following points: 1. Assam’s indigenous, composite culture has to be made the bedrock of a new politics of development, democracy and employment generation in Assam—old frameworks are dated. The thekedaari culture needs to be discouraged. 2. The question of illegal immigration is a non-issue. It is raised frequently by vested interests which do not encourage people to people unity in Assam and want to usurp power by playing the sectarian-identity politics card of the British era. After all, beyond a ridiculously low number, the AGP, which came to power in Assam for two terms, was unable to furnish proof of illegal immigration. 3. Yet, to satisfy charged emotions and perceptions, a cut off date—say 1971—can be proposed. People and families found to be residing in Assam after that date can be deported. 4. Government of India, Assam—and all political parties—should desist from encouraging sectarian-exclusivist trends in ethnic movements—flirting with sectarianism leads to distortions and ultimately, separatism. 5. The proud traditions and history of each and every tribal and ethnic group needs to be respected. Democratic trends within ethnic movements—like the KarbiAnglong based undivided ASDC—which seek a solution of their problems within the framework of the Indian Constitution—should be encouraged. 6. Political parties should desist from the practice of forming designated camps for militants. Like Mafia elements in UP, Bihar, MP, Jharkhand—even Maharashtra and Gujarat—these camps work as Independent entities. Militants residing in these camps treat their areas like a master would treat his servant in the feudal era. It is as if they possess a license to kill and maim hapless men, women and children—not only of `rival’ ethnicities—but their own people as well. The promise of security—given by the Indian State to its own citizens—gets reduced to a farce. 7. Again like Mafia elements—who enjoy State and political patronage and actually work to perpetrate an oblique form of State terror on ordinary citizens—the sectarian militants of ethnic movements should be seen as criminals. 8. Sectarian militants of one tribal/ethnic group should not be used to suppress the democratic aspirations of others. The political parties have indulged in these games. Sooner or later, they will have to pay the price. 9. Secular-nationalist forces need to launch a severe campaign to root out anti-Muslim and anti-minority perceptions in Assam. (Concluded)

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