Dialogue July-September, 2012, Volume 14 No.1
Conflict between the Bodos and the Immigrant Muslims in Kokrajhar and Rehabilitation Issues
The state of Assam and district Kokrajahr in particular is populated by various communities such as Bodos, Assomiyas, Bengalis, Rajbongshis, Santals, Rabhas, Garos, Muslims etc. that has been experiencing ethnic conflict for quite some time (Goswami 2001). The conflict which has erupted recently in the Kokrajhar district of the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), Assam has displaced the indigenous Bodos, Rajbongshis and the immigrant Muslims from their habitats. The displaced are currently staying in the temporary relief camps, government institutions and other buildings. There are at present 279 relief camps in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri district of Assam respectively with about 4 lakhs inmates (The Sentinel, 2012). Presently, the inhabitants of these relief camps are faced with acute shortage of food, drinking water, sanitation, medicine supply issues to mention a few. They are also encountering deep psychological problems and have a deep sense of insecurity even while staying in the camps. This has manifested in their behavior of unwillingness to return back to their places of original residence due to an embedded sense of security deficit.
The district Kokrajhar where the conflict has erupted is considered by the Bodos as the heartland of Bodoland and is the largest district of the BTAD, which was created on 10th February 2003 with an area of approximately 8821 Sq. km, within the state of Assam, after an amendment of the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution after a long struggle by the Bodos. Prior to the creation of the BTAD, Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) was in existence since 20th February 1993 on the northern banks of the mighty Brahmaputra, The All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) which spearheaded the movement for a separate state, rejected the BAC in its Lunghin Session held in Karbi Anglong in Assam. The struggle for statehood continued resulting into signing of the Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) between the Centre, State and the Bodo leaders in the year 2003 creating BTAD with four districts namely Kokrajahr, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri as the area of the BTAD.
Before becoming a full-fledged district, Kokrajhar was a small town with a railway station that connected it with rest of the country. Under the administration of Bimola Prasad Chaliha, three subdivisions of Goalpara district, including Kokrajhar, became districts in 1957.
Kokrajhar is in news today due to Bodo-Muslim conflict and undoubtedly the influx of population from neighbouring Bangladesh is the major factor. Apart from this, there are many emerging causes that are fuelling and aggravating the present situation.
The influx of immigrants into the district is not of a recent origin. When Kokrajahr was a part of undivided Goalpara district, the immigrants came to Goalpara district from Mymensingh, Pabna, Bogra and Rongpur district of Bangladesh and settled on char lands from as early as 1901 and the immigration still continues.(Barooah, 1979). The immigrants, who entered Goalpara, gradually in turn migrated to other districts of Assam during 1951.The density of population in Goalpara district in 1961 increased many folds compared to that of 1951 which clearly substantiated and suppoerted immigration from across the border. Historically, Goalpara district has been identified as the main gateway for the influx of population into Assam (Barooah 1979).
The conflict which is experienced today in the tribal areas between the Immigrant Muslims and the Tribal communities is not recent origin. There have been many such conflicts in the past. The earlier conflicts had occurred due to lack of understanding of the land laws by immigrants in the belts and blocks, which brought them into conflict with the locals from time to time. It is also well known that the creation of tribal belts and blocks have a direct relationship with the large scale immigration of people from eastern Bengal especially from the Mymensingh area (Bordoloi, 1999). The conflict which erupted in 1950s in the district of undivided Goalpara compelled about 1, 50,000 Muslim immigrants to return or find alternate places. During the same period, many tribals too emigrated from Goalpara to Kamrup and Nowgong distrcts for economic reasons (Barooah 1979). This had reduced the population in the district.
The district Kokrajhar experienced another conflict between the Adivasis and the immigrant Muslims during the 1980s just after the creation of Santal Colony Tribal block in the year 1977. The Santal Colony Tribal block had 57,930 bighas of land in the western part of Assam, created by the Assam government in 1977, vide notification No. RSD.9/77/11 dated 24.08.77, to protect the lands of the Santals and the tribals from the land-hungry immigrants. The conflict during 1980 forced the immigrants to leave the colony and settle outside the border of the colony. A research analyst by Nilim Dutta alleged in his article, titled Don’t Blame the Immigrants, that the Bodos were attacking other communities living in the areas dominated by them. Shri Dutta also raised the question on Santal-Bodo conflict which had erupted in the 1990s which displaced more that 3 lakh people from their habitats and was of the opinion that many Adivasi families are still found to be living in the relief camps. Shri Dutta, may be, did not appreciate and understand the rehabilitation factors and measures that had failed so miserably for the people. Not only Adivasis, there are even many Bodo and Immigrant Muslim families who got displaced in the earlier conflicts that had erupted in the 90s. The immigrant families who were displaced from the north of Bongaigaon more than 20 years ago are still found to be living under perilous and uncertain conditions along the national highway near Rakhaldubi. The families who are found living in the temporary relief camps, be it Adivasis, Bodos or immigrant Muslims, have all been identified by the government officials as encroachers on forest lands. The government provided assistance to these families from time to time but they could not be rehabilitated. However, the families who had ‘patta’ lands and got displaced from their habitats have been fully rehabilitated in their respective villages by the government in a phased manner. Although Shri Dutta has advocated that the immigrants are not responsible but the fact remains that almost all the conflicts in the area are around land occupation by them without rightful authority or claim to it. The Congress ministry in Assam headed by Late Gopinath Bordoloi did realize the pathetic situation of the tribals and initiated steps for creation of tribal belts and blocks for tribals and backward classes by amending the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation Act 1886 by adding chapter X in 1947. This had a direct relationship with the large scale immigration.
When the conflict between the immigrant Muslims and the tribal communities occurred in Udalguri district in 2008, more than 55 people lost their lives. The reoccurrence of conflict between the immigrants and the tribal communities in Assam reveals the animosities between the two communities over the years with the immigrants settling in areas previously dominated by tribal communities. Presently this makes the two sides struggle for the same political and geographical space. The failure of the administration to protect the tribal belts and blocks resulted in vast tracts of land being illegally transferred to the immigrants and non-notified classes, which led to the displacement of tribal people to forest areas. The alienation of tribal people from their land is believed to be one of the causes of various tribal movements in Assam. Shri Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of Assam, had mentioned that the land grabbing may be one of the reasons for the clashes (Frontline, 2008).
The All Assam Students’ union (AASU) also had to launch the Assam movement for deporting the foreigners from Assam. The six-year long agitation came to an end with the signing of Assam accord in 1985 but the major clauses of the accord pertaining to identification and deportation of foreigners have not been implemented even after 27 years of Assam Accord. The inadequacy of the successive governments both at the center and the state has aggravated the situation. After a long silence, when the Assam government headed by Shri Tarun Gogoi initiated the pilot project of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Barpeta in the year 2010, the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) took out a demonstration as part of agitation within 24 hours of the tripartite meeting held to review the implementation of the Assam accord, on July 21st 2010, against the NRC process. During the day long agitation launched by the AAMSU in protest against the NRC update, 4 people were killed, 50 injured including 20 police personnel (The Sentinel 2010). The protest of the AAMSU clearly indicated that the immigrant settlers were not interested in the updation of the NRC. Since then the process of NRC has come to a standstill. If the NRC updation been allowed to continue, today BTAD may have been saved from the recent violence and bereavements.
It is important to mention here that many new villages belonging to minority community have sprung up in the Kokrajahr district during last 10-15 years, which is proof enough and clearly provides statistical evidence to the continual inflow of people be it from the neighbouring district or from across the border. The settlements have not only been in the belt and block areas but also on encroached on the ‘khas’ lands meant for animal grazing.
It has been observed of late that the student’s wings of the Muslims, the AAMSU and the All Bodoland Minority Students Union (ABMSU) have become violent and aggressive. Both the organizations have tried to show their strength by organizing various agitation programmes particularly in the Bodoland areas, which resulted in the stray and scattered but aggressive incidents. As a part of their agitation programmes, the AAMSU and the ABMSU carried out wall and electric posts writing in the heart of Gossaigaon town which made the people of the locality to think about the intention of the immigrants. There is no denying the fact that every democratic organization has got their right to protest against the injustices done to their interest but violent protests are not proper. Recently, there was incident of firing at a remote village under Gossaigaon sub-division by some miscreants in which a labour belonging to settler community was killed. When the incident had occurred, it was taken for granted that the Bodos had committed the crime. The next morning, the AAMSU and the ABMSU gheraoed the Gossaigaon police station and shouted slogans against the Bodos in the heart of Gossaigaon town. When the police station was gheraoed, the Additional Superintendent of Police (SP), Kokrajhar was present in the police station. In front of the Additional SP, the mob shouted slogans against the administration and the SP for their failure to protect the life and properties of the people. Finally, to disperse the mob, the Additional SP assured the mob that the killers have been identified and will be arrested shortly. The Additional SP seemed to have extended his heartfelt thanks to the mob for not attacking the police station! After a day or two, the firing which was carried out had been proved and established, in which some Adivasi youths were found to be involved.
There are instances where several stray incidents had occurred and various agitation programmes were launched by the AAMSU. It may be worthwhile to recollect a few to provide an overview of what is being reiterated. There was firing from an automatic weapon by miscreants at a group of people at Angthihara village near Dotma on 6th July 2012, which led to the killing of two persons and injuring three others belonging to settler community. It was also taken for granted by the settler community that the Bodos were involved in the incident. In retaliation, the immigrant Muslims started attacking the Bodos. It was learnt that the incident of firing was related with timber smuggling as the people involved were those beside the river Gangia which flows through the village Angthihara. Miscreants should not be considered belonging to and identified as members of a particular community having societal sanction for such harmful acts. This thought of judgment has to be inculcated by the people and administration in an effort to bring sanity in subsequent action.
Such unwarranted incidents in Kokrajahr district led to setting fire to two-wheelers, assault and physical attack, by the immigrant Muslims, on many uninvolved Bodos and innocent people having tribal facial features. Without establishment of facts, the immigrant community should not feel justified in targetting a particular community for all the incidents that occur. The statement of the present Home Minister in the floor of the Parliament on 8th August 2012 made it very clear that an underground organization of the Koch-Rajbongshi community, the Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) was involved in the incident of 6th July 2012. After this incident, again two youths belonging to the immigrant Muslim community had been fired upon by a gang of miscreants at Magurmari, near Kokrajhar, one of the injured person is believed to be the chairman of the newly floated militant wing named as Muslim Nationalist Army (AMNA), the existence of which is still being verified.
Soon after a couple of days of the firing, four Bodo youths were killed by the immigrant Muslims at Joypur about 6 kms away from Kokrajhar town on 19th July 2012. About 300 immigrant Muslims attacked the four youths with lethal weapons and chopped them into pieces. One social worker of the area Abdul Ali Ahmed reports that the incident of killing of 4 Bodo youths could well have been prevented. The police personnel to whom the youth approached after they were attacked reportedly refused to provide adequate safety and instead left them at the mercy of a frenzied mob (The Hindu, July 2012). But the police personnel who were present at the time of attack on four youths, however, clarified their stand through a TV channel and stated that they too were attacked in which one got seriously injured and hence they failed. As the news of killing of 4 Bodo youths spread the situation turned volatile and the entire sensitive belt bordering indigenous people and the immigrants was engulfed in another bout of violent conflict between the indigenous Bodos and the immigrants which spread like wild fire in the entire Kokrajhar district. This also seriously affected the peace in adjoining districts.
The conflict between the two communities continued and within few days more than 4 lakh people got displaced from their habitats (The sentinel 27.7.2012) and about 92 people lost their precious lives (Assomiya Pratidin, 8th August 2012). There are many unrecorded deaths and if the unrecorded death is taken into consideration, the number of unnecessary deaths will be much higher. Whenever conflict between the communities occurs people have to be on the run for their lives with whatever can be carried physically at that moment. During the recent conflict people too had to face a similar situation and also had to hunt for alternate shelters. The extent of misery and financial loss is at times incalculable to these already economically backward people.
The immediate requirements of the affected people in the camp is food, drinking water, sanitation, medicine along with a few basic necessities. As per the government report, there are 79 relief camps in Kokrajhar district alone (Assomiya pratidin, 2012). The district Chirang has 35 relief camps sheltering about 62,587 persons. Out of these, 18 relief camps belong to Bodos and the remaining 17 camps belong to immigrant Muslims in Chirang district (The Sentinel, 7th July 2012)
Statement showing subdivision-wise relief camps and inmates in Kokrajhar district as on 30-07-2012 (Both Communities)
Sl No Name of Number of Population
Sub-division relief camps
01 Kokrajhar 24 23,434
02 Gossaigaon 40 74,396
03 Parbatjhora 15 9,900
Source: Assomiya Pratidin 2012
Statement showing subdivision-wise relief camps and inmates in Chirang district as on 07-08-2012 (Both Communities)
Sl No Name of Number of Population
Sub-division relief camps
01 Kajalgaon 15
02 Bijni 20 33,489
Source: The Sentinel 2012
It is really unfortunate that the government of India too does not have any mechanism like many other countries to deal with such problem which occur very frequently. Whenever people get displaced due to either ethnic violence or communal conflict, the responsibility lies with the state government and the district administration. This has led to wide discrepancies among different states in the same country. There is discrimination in the distribution of various relief grants without any justification to settle such contentious issues. The conflicts which occurred in 1993, 1996, 1998, 2008, 2011, and 2012 in the state of Assam are of similar nature. People got killed and displaced due to communal violence or ethnic conflict. Although the effects are identical and the requirements of the displaced are also alike, they are not given equal treatment. Sometimes, the state government offers 3 lakhs for the death and occasionally it is scaled up to 8 lakhs. Unequal grants are not only in the cases where death is reported but also in rehabilitation cases too. Sometimes INR 10,000/-, at times 30,000/- and occasionally INR 50000/-, which does not render parity. Disparities are also observed in the distribution of monthly rations. The Kashmiri Pandits who got displaced from their habitats are given higher assistance of Rs. 750/- per month whereas a Bru who got displaced from Mizoram would be given only Rs. 80/- per month. This discrimination exists as there seems to be a hazy policy with the Government of India for certain groups of people. This creates a wider chasm to the already existing gap in understanding when it comes to a sensitive issue like financial grant in distress. When the recent conflict erupted in Kokrajahr, the Hon’ble Prime Minister announced a package of INR300 crore for the rehabilitation of the affected people. When the earlier conflicts occurred no such package was announced for the rehabilitation of the displaced people. When the Hon’ble Chief Minister visited the affected people in Kokrajahr, he did not make any compensation announcement in regard to the deaths of the people in the recent violence but when he visited the district Dhubri, he made an announcement that the victims would be given a sum of Rs. 8 Lakhs. This stance may very well lead many to believe as appeasement towards the immigrant Muslims.
The government presently has initiated a process of rehabilitation by giving Rs.500/- per family and asking the families to return to their villages. There is no denying the fact that many families vacated their houses due to fear of death as their houses are situated in the sensitive areas of violence. Conditions are limping back to normalcy and the villagers who had fled for safety may be able to return to their villages.
It is imperative that the villagers whose houses have been burnt down will have to be rehabilitated with immediate financial grant. The following recommendations may have to be considered for ending the conflict permanently in the area:
1. As the conflict in the area centres around land and other resources, the tribal belt and block created for the protection of the tribal communities and other notified classes by the government of Assam must be protected, and the clause pertaining to the belt and block must be implemented.
2. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) must be upgraded with immediate effect so that the ‘foreigners’ issue in the state may be solved once and for all. It is observed that the suspicion of the indigenous people on the Muslims will be removed only when the NRC is updated by taking 1971 as the base year. The questionnaire for the NRC update should be made simple so that everyone can understand. It seems the NRC update failed in 2010 when applied in Barpeta as there was lot of confusion with respect to the questionnaire itself.
3. The porous border between Bangladesh and Assam must be sealed and the ‘double’ line of defence along the border be strengthened.
4. To end the conflict permanently, the displaced people should be thoroughly investigated about their citizenship status and rehabilitated. 5. The territory between the communities must be well defined and the police outposts be provided in the border till the time misgivings and consequent animosities are under controllable limits or ideally completely removed.
6. To remove the feelings of hatred and animosities, seminars, workshops and other cultural activities be organized from time to time between the communities to create an atmosphere of bon-homie, brotherhood and deeper sense of harmonious community co-existence.
7. For effectively ending the problem, the areas of resettlement should be ensured as completely secure. There should be complete absence of hostilities and safe access for humanitarian workers in the resettled areas. If the affected people are resettled without ensuring complete safety then there will be a high degree of possible reoccurrence of similar conflict as witnessed during 1996 and 1998 conflict between the Bodos and Santals.
8. If the affected villages are located in the sensitive areas then it would be preferable not to rehabilitate the displaced people in their villages directly. Rather, a temporary or a transit facility may be created near the villages with effective police protection so that the affected villagers may be able to conduct at least limited agrarian activity for their subsistence by making use of their own land.
9. The government of India should adopt a mechanism of formal structure of assistance to deal with this group of people so that equal opportunities, financial assistance and protection can be provided similar to the status of refugees who tend to be provided with an equal level of assistance and opportunity world over.
10. Finally, a formalized civil forum should be formed with eminent personalities from local areas involving all the communities in conflict with the responsibility of first response through peaceful and negotiable means before the act of enforcement is put into action. Education of the masses on various ethnic and reconciliatory issues would be the prime responsibility of this forum.
The state of Assam, home to various communities, has been experiencing conflict for the last few decades. Due to reoccurrence of conflict, lakhs of people have been displaced from their habitats over a period of time, which needs immediate and positive responses from the state administration in terms of relief and rehabilitation. Conflict erupts frequently on longstanding issues which have led to conflict in the Bodoland areas and rendered many homeless and displaced.
It has been established that due to an influx of people several new villages belonging to settler communities have come in existence in Kokrajhar district of Assam in particular and the entire BTAD areas in general. Most of these villages are found to be located in the tribal belt and block areas which the government of Assam has created for the protection of tribal and other notified classes. The creation of tribal belts and blocks, therefore, has got relevance to this perennial ethnic problem combined with human wants for land and share of natural resources. In the present circumstances, while there is need of the rehabilitation programme and to look beyond the immediate humanitarian assistance. Permenent steps should be taken that conflict between the communities does not take place.
1. Barooah, D.P. (1979). Gazetteer of India, Assam State, Goalpara District Gazetteer. Guwahati, government of Assam.
2. Bordoloi, B.N. (i999).Report on the Survey of Alienation of tribal Land in Assam. Guwahati, AIRTSc.
3. Goswami, S.(2001). Ethnic conflict in Assam. The Indian journal of Political Science, Vol 6, No. 1, March.
4. The Sentinel, 27 July 2012.
5. Pegu, J. (2004), Reclaiming Identity-A Discourse on Bodo History. Kokrajhar, Jwngsar Publication.
6. Frontline (2008). The States Communal Inferno. Vol.25, Issue 22, Oct 25 Nov 07, 2008.
7. The Hindu, Road Becomes a Border between Bodos and Muslims. 28 July, 2012, Kokrajhar
8. Pratidin, August 8,2012, Bongaigaon
9. The Sentinel, July 7, 2012.