Playing with fire

Assam govt should address the peoples concerns.

Assam’s Bodo heartland is in flames again. Violent clashes between Bodo tribals and Muslims erupted in the districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri claiming the lives of over 30 people so far. Entire villages are ablaze. Mobs armed with spears and clubs are said to be roaming the districts hunting down people of the other community. This has triggered an exodus of people to safe areas. The riots were fuelled by a recent string of Bodo-Muslim killings and counter-killings. The week-long bloodletting reveals the depth of suspicion that defines relations between Bodos and Muslims. What started off as violence between members of political organisations quickly consumed communities.

The government failed to act quickly to nip the violence in the bud. It seems to have allowed the situation to deteriorate. It has now called out the army to quell the violence.
It is likely that the army will halt the violence. While this is welcome, the state’s responsibility to the people does not end with merely putting a lid on the situation. It is time it addressed the conflict and its underlying causes. It is true that in response to the eruption of an angry insurgency in the early 1990s, the government did engage in talks with Bodo militants and set up a Bodo Autonomous Council in Bodo majority areas. However, the insurgency raged. More talks followed culminating in the creation of a Bodloand Territorial Council in 2003. Yet violence has repeatedly erupted along ethnic faultlines. The spark that lit the flame this time around might have been attacks between rival organisations but the issue of land alienation – Bodo tribals have lost land to migrants pouring in for decades -- is responsible for keeping inter-ethnic tensions simmering.

The political economy of violence in the Northeast keeps the fires raging. There are vested interests that have benefited from the armed insurgencies in the region. They are keen to keep the conflicts alive. These include not just militant groups that have built up veritable empires by trading in guns, grenades and narcotics but also, politicians who have profited from keeping people divided. There are armed forces personnel too who have benefited through arms deals and extortion. That the land mafia grabs land that has been abandoned by people fleeing the fighting is well known.  The hand of at least some of these vested interests is likely in the past week’s bloodletting in Bodo areas. The government must identity and act against them.  

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