Kokrajhar in western Assam has become with killing fields in the last two years .The recent spate of violence which has taken the lives of 31 people till now has once again brought the focus back to the western areas of Assam .The four districts of western Assam Chirang, Baksa ,Udalguri and Kokrajhar comprise the BTAD or the Bodoland Territorial Area District. Comprising of almost 35% of the total area of Assam the BTAD was carved out in 2003 following a compromise between the erstwhile Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT) and the Government of India. Subsequent elections were held in BTAD which was created under the Schedule VI of the Indian Constitution.
Historically the Bodos in Assam had of long complained of the hegemony of the Assamese middle class intelligentsia which had sought to curb the aspirations of the Bodo people. A proud race in themselves the Bodos were among the original settlers of Assam but later were subdued in their own land they claimed. The Assam Movement of the mid 1980’s though claiming to identify a new paradigm of identity politics on the ethos of regionalism failed to do so. Instead in many ways it sought to increase the distance between the Assamese speaking “middle class intelligentsia” and the erstwhile sons of the soils the Bodos. Karbis and the Dimasas. During the Assam movement tribal bodies like Karbi Students Union vociferously supported the all powerful All Assam Students Union (AASU) Movement only to not only later distance themselves away from the movement but from mainstream Assamese narrative itself. A resurgence of sorts emerged among the tribes mainly the Bodos, the Karbis and the Dimasas. Among the Bodos this new seed of resurgence was lead by “Bodofa” Upen Brahma which not only saw political assertion but also a cultural resurgence. The Bathow religion traditional religion of the Bodos saw a rapid revival alongwith celebration of festivals like Domasi . The ground was ripe for a new movement based on the crucial question of Bodo identity.
It was in the backdrop of this cultural resurgence and political assertion that a few groups took to arms in order to demand for a separate homeland .While the demands ranged between autonomy, a separate state and a sovereign state all of these demands hinged on the particular question of separate Bodo homeland. And a culmination of this was the signing of the 2003 peace accord which saw the arrival of BTC now BTAD.
And yet the creation of BTAD has not been able to fulfill the aspirations of people. This is because movements which base themselves on ethnicity often have a tendency to become xenophobic in nature. And the Bodo assertion was not without its faults. The creation of a homeland based on a particular identity often creates problems from others who do not subscribe to the same identity. This problem is more acute in the Bodoland area stemming from the fact that Bodos account for less than 50% in most of the BTAD areas.The other major groups that inhabit these areas include Adivasis,Koch Rajbonghsis and Bengali speaking Muslims. In recent times there has been repeated demands by Non Bodo organizations to remove all villages from BTAD where Bodos account for less than 50%.
Among all the non Bodo groups present in the BTAD areas the Bengali speaking Muslim groups constitute the largest number. And perhaps this fear of “numbers” was the essential question which lead to the horrific 2012 riots in Bodoland. With the ensuing elections the coming together of thirteen different non Bodo groups in order to support one particular independent candidate was bound to spillover into tensions between the Bodos and the other groups. Though at first instance the recent violence can be termed as poll violence yet it runs deeper than that. The far more complex historical narrative of the BTAD coupled with the fear of “Bangladeshi immigration” .
And it is to these questions and themes that we must direct our energies towards finding an answer. To the question of “migrants” we must understand the economic resources like land water etc are the moot cause of conflict between communities. They often take the cry of religion caste or language but that is merely a rallying war cry. In reality it is fight between two groups to control resources. And efforts must be directed towards solving these economic differences between various social groups.
To the larger question of homeland based on ethnicity much more debate at this stage is required .For example if tomorrow a separate Bodo state is declared that what of the demands of the Koch Rajbongsis who claim a separate Kamatapur homeland with overlapping territories of the present BTAD area.The Koch rajbongshis too claim historical injustice and narrative of history itself to strengthen their case.In that case NE would become balkanized beyond recongnition. Smaller states and autonomous councils have not necessarily proved to be a solution anywhere in this country. In NE this has held true all the more. Inspite of being smaller states with high human development index on a few parameters the states have not been able to develop on other scales. The aspirations of the people have remained unfulfilled. As many have argued what is needed in NE today is not territorial sovereignty as many tribes seek out but non territorial sovereignty and regions. While this would seek to fulfill the aspirations of the tribes which have hitherto lived in the fringes it would also cease to become a question which is locked in the debate of further state reorganization.
Thus the violence in Assam goes much beyond electoral politics and communal questions but into the deeper of realms of separate homeland ,resurgence of identities and perhaps xenophobia of a different kind.What is needed today is a comprehensive solution towards all these issues instead of knee jerk reactions and bandaid policies.