by Bibhu Prasad Routray — January 3, 2014
Most of the violence in Indian conflict theatres, including the northeast, is being perpetrated by militant outfits with very small cadre strength.
As 2013 drew close, Assam’s hilly Karbi Anglong district showed signs of lapsing into yet another bout of instability. On 27 December, militants of the Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers (KPLT) opened indiscriminate fire in villages inhabited by Rengma Naga tribals, killing four persons, three of them women. A retaliatory attack followed with cadres of the Naga Rengma Hills Protection Force (NRHPF) militant group, representing the Rangma Nagas, killing two KPLT militants inside a dense forest the next day. In counter-retaliations, KPLT militants, on 28 December, torched seven houses belonging to Rengma tribals, forcing the district administration to impose a curfew. A day later, another nine houses were torched. The toll of dead reached eight after two more dead bodies were recovered. By 31 December, over 1500 people had fled their homes and were being housed in three relief camps set up by the administration. The Nagaland Chief minister has written to the Prime Minister and his counterpart in Assam warning that “continuance of violence, intimidation, threats and exodus of people from Karbi Anglong may snowball into a situation with very grave consequences.”
There are several ways of interpreting the incident- an acrimonious ethnic divide between the Karbis and the Rengmas, livelihood issues, land encroachment, and the insecurity created by the Nagas among the non-Nagas. Irrespective of the interpretation influenced by one’s intellectual inclination, it is undeniable that violence of this nature gets a life and subsequent escalation by the militant formations thriving under the benign neglect of the state.
The KPLT was formed in January 2011. A disgruntled faction of the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), which laid down arms in February 2010, KPLT itself has undergone several splits. Initially formed with a cadre strength of 25 cadres, the KPLT, in three years, has added only 15 members to its army and boasts a cadre strength of 40. With a number of sophisticated arsenals, its finances have been sourced from rampant extortion activities. In the latest instance, the tax imposed by the KPLT on orange cultivation by the Rengma villagers and the latter’s refusal to abide by the diktats led to the violence. KPLT had warned that the non-complying villagers would have to vacate the area. Within its short history, KPLT has emerged as one of the most violent outfits in the state recording over 30 violent incidents in 2013.