The violence witnessed in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) of Assam in the last few days, which took a toll of over 30 lives, has ethnic, political and economic reasons and historical roots. In spite of curfews, ban orders, seizure of arms, arrests of a number of people and movement of security forces, including the army, attacks by the Bodos on Bengali-speaking Muslims continued for days.
The trouble spread to villages also, which are difficult to police, and there is fear of recrudescence of violence. The failure of the state government in anticipating the brewing trouble in the last few weeks has been clear. There were some incidents of violence and intelligence reports of chances of its outbreak. The election day was also not completely incident-free.
The immediate trigger for the violence was the Bodos’ suspicion that all non-Bodo groups had supported a former ULFA leader who contested as an independent candidate from the Kokrajhar parliamentary seat. The Bodos, who claim to be the earliest inhabitants of Assam, have complained that their identity is under threat and have demanded a separate state of their own.
The setting up of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) in 2003 was an attempt to give them a sense of self-governance. Some Bodo extremist groups have laid down arms since then but the grievances and the demand for separate statehood have continued. The Bodos are not in a majority in the autonomous area, though they have the majority in the council through reservation of seats.
This has aggravated their sense of lack of dominance in the area which they consider as their traditional home. So the ethnic hostilities which have intermittently broken out in the last many decades never really stopped. The worst happened in 2012 when over 100 people were killed.
The autonomous system also did not improve the economic status of the people. There were even charges of increased corruption. It did not also help much to integrate the different sections of people psychologically, economically and in other ways. The entire north-east is a crucible of different ethnic, religious and other groups. Illegal migrations have added to the tensions.
It should be the endeavour of the governments of the region to promote a sense of unity and commonalities among them. In the immediate context, strict administrative measures should be taken to book those who are behind the trouble and violence in the Bodo areas.