May 9, 2014
On May 1 and 2, 2014, the Bodo Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) were afflicted by ethnic violence when 41 bodies were discovered in Baska and Kokrajhar districts. Non Bodos, including migrant Muslims, who constitute the majority, allege that their failure to vote for the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) candidate Chandan Brahma in the recent Lok Sabha elections resulted in the fatal retaliation. This has been linked to remarks by BPF leader, Pramila Rani Brahma, who had commented on April 30 that the Muslim migrants had not voted for Chandan Brahma.
Muslims have propped up their own independent candidate, Naba Kumar Sarania alias Hira Sarania, a former United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) rebel in Kokrajhar. This seat has always been represented by a Bodo parliamentarian.
The Assam government suspects the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) to be behind the attacks though the latter has denied any involvement. The state government is thinking of arming Bengali-speaking Muslims in Bodo areas for self-defense.
Changing Demography and Escalating Tensions
The genesis of this strife can be traced back to as early as 1978 when in a Lok Sabha by-election around 45,000 illegal migrants’ names were found on the voter’s list in Mangaldoi, Darrang district. That was a covert move by the Assam state to legalize migrants with voting rights at par with bona fide citizens of India clearly implicating the government, driven by seditious vested interests versus delivering on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens. The failure of elected representatives to protect people’s land from illegal occupation was and is one of the primary reasons for overwhelming insecurity over land holdings.1
The first strike against this revelation was kick started in 1979 resulting in the massive All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led ‘Assam Agitation’ against illegal Bangladeshi migration from 1979 to 1985. During that agitation, violence against Muslim immigrants continued, with the 1983 Nellie massacre being the worst with over 2000 Muslim migrants massacred in a single day. Districts like Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Darrang, etc, had also witnessed violence during the Assam Agitation over illegal migration.
Notwithstanding all previous events in the decade from 2001 to 2011, as per census figures of 2011, there has been a sharp increase in Bengali speaking Muslim population. The four districts of the BTAD have had highest increases of Muslim versus Non-Muslim population growth (See Figure I). With ever escalating social tensions, in October 2008, violence over issues of land encroachments was sparked by the incident of alleged violence meted out to a Bodo youth, Rakesh Swargiary, by Muslim minority youth. The news of this attack spread like wildfire amongst the Bodo community resulting in widespread violence between the two communities.2 The Bodo community was already on the edge after two Bodo youths were killed in Rowta, Udalguri in August 2008 after they had refused to take part in a bandh called by the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU).