Six weeks after mob violence triggered the displacement of lakhs of traumatised Muslims and Bodos, the worst appears to be over for lower Assam. Large areas still remain curfew-bound. The death toll is 96. More than two lakh people remain in relief camps, even as the government claims hundreds of thousands have returned to their homes. Decisive action must now be taken to crack down on anyone indulging in provocative and inflammatory acts or statements. More measures are needed to instil confidence among the victims and ensure that those still in relief camps can return to their homes. At the ground level, this means the government must work hard to create trust between ordinary Muslims and Bodos. Confidence-building measures that go beyond ritual and rhetoric are essential. The State government should learn the lessons and improve its response time, and ensure agile arrangements to nip any trouble in the bud. A reply provided in the Lok Sabha by the Defence Minister made it clear that while the Assam government sought the deployment of the Army in Kokrajhar on July 21, three days after the violence had started, the Centre did not act for another three days. Only on July 24, when the State made a second request, did the Army arrive. Such delays are inexcusable.
Much has been made of the presence of foreign citizens in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts but care is needed to disentangle the community of Bengali-speaking Indian nationals who migrated to western Assam before Partition from the undocumented migrants who have entered from East Pakistan and Bangladesh since 1947 or 1971. This will involve attending to the unfinished task of updating the National Register of Citizens, as has been agreed by all parties concerned. The completion of this process is bound to take the wind out of the sails of those seeking to make political careers out of the ‘inhabitant versus foreigner’ issue. Meanwhile, grievances relating to land and resources need to be attended to by means of thoughtful development policy prescriptions. Overall, it has been a difficult phase for Assam, coping also with the impact of an exodus of its people, along with those from other parts of northeastern India, from cities like Bangalore, Pune and Chennai following rumours of violence. When rumour, myth and insecurity dominate the mind, the smallest spark can set off panic or worse. In an era defined by mass migration and mass messaging, everything is connected. The exodus is a reminder to ‘mainland’ India that it cannot afford to ignore the travails of the east and northeast, nor can it afford to allow “sons of the soil” politics to take root.