The killing of over 30 people, most of them Muslim women and children, across Assam’s Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) is a deadly reminder of systematic efforts towards ethnic cleansing that is under way in that area. The National Democratic Front of Boroland (Songbijit), fighting for a “Sovereign Boroland” to be carved out of Assam, remains the natural and principal suspect for the carnage: it was behind the violence between the indigenous ethnic Bodo community and the erstwhile East Bengal-origin Muslims who generally speak Assamese and certain Bengali dialects that erupted in July-August 2012, leading to the killing of more than a hundred people and the displacement of about 4.85 lakh. But the difference this time is that the atmosphere has been vitiated seriously in the context of elections. In a manifesto released for Assam in April, the State BJP unit made a potentially incendiary promise that it would identify and expel all illegal immigrants staying in Assam — but with a caveat. It promised to protect Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and members of the Scheduled Castes who have come there from Bangladesh following “religious, political and social persecution”, and not to treat them as illegal migrants. In such a context, it is hardly surprising that oblique and not-so-oblique statements have been made by different political leaders linking the BJP’s stance on such a sensitive topic, and the recrudescence of violence in the BTAD.
The Assam Police have put the blame on the NDFB (Songbijit). Meanwhile, survivors claimed to have identified some of the attackers as surrendered militants of the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT). The Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), formed by former leaders of the BLT, that holds the reins of the Bodoland Territorial Council, is also a coalition partner of the Congress in Assam but has indicated it might team up with the BJP, post-election. Significantly, BPF legislator Pramila Rani Brahma had alleged that its candidate for the Kokrajhar constituency was likely to lose as a majority of Muslims did not vote for him. The constituency has about six lakh Bodo voters, nine lakh non-Bodo voters, and four lakh Muslim voters. Narrow election-related interests have complicated the situation, yet it is important that the investigating agencies are able to identify the culprits and reassure the migrant communities of the safety of their lives and property. Urgent steps are needed to ensure their security and protection. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s government should be held to account for the repeated failure in checking the violence, even as it remains under the cloud of militancy that looms over the State. For a start, the government should initiate a process of vulnerability mapping in areas that could see further trouble down the line.
Correction and Clarifications
In the above article, the reference to the "Urdu-speaking minority community" in the context of the 2012 killings in Assam’s Bodoland Territorial Area District was wrong. They should have been referred to as "erstwhile East Bengal-origin Muslims who generally speak Assamese and certain Bengali dialects."