Over four months have passed since violence broke out in the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in July 2012. In this special series on Bodoland violance, we bring stories of violence, desperation, and also hope from this "tinderbox." This series has been made possible with financial support from Indian Muslim Relief Committee (IMRC).
By M. Reyaz, TwoCircles.net,
Professor Monirul Hussain, Head of the Department of Political Science at the Gauhati University and author of The Assam Movement: Class, Ideology and Identity and State, Displacement and Popular Resistance in North East India spoke to M. Reyaz on migration, the foreigner issue, and problems leading to BTAD clashes. “It would be very foolish to assume that people migrating from Bangladesh do not know what is happening in India for last 20 years or so, and what has happened to the people of East Bengal origins here in last 20 years or so, beginning with the 1983 Nellie massacres,” he said. Further considering economic stability and human development index of Bangladesh, he says, he sees no reason why they would migrate en masse. Whatever migration occurred was due to historical reason, he says and adds, “In last 61 years there is increase in 5 %, but this is not because of migration. If you go to Muslim villages, their socio-economic condition is pathetic; the community has largely remained economically and educationally backward. And everywhere in the world you will find that those communities which are marginalised which are poor their fertility rate is higher than those which are middle class.” He also puts the Bodo clashes in perspective and agrees that the July end clashes are part of “ethnic cleansing” going on in the region.
Edited Excerpts of the interview with Prof. Monirul Hussain:
TCN: What is your take on the whole issue of migration and recent violence in BTAD?
MH: Migration is a long process. It is not that in few days Bangladeshis from Bangladesh have come. It started long back... But what is happening here is because of wrong politics and wrong policy since 1987 or so... and it is the cumulative result of that wrong politics.
TCN: When you say wrong politics, do you mean state level politics or you are referring to the Central Government?
MH: Both… In India state is very powerful and Bodoland movement was launched by a very small group. Statistically Bodos are the largest tribe, but in terms of number they constitute just 6 % of total population (of Assam).
Main entrance of the Gauhati University.
Since (inception of the) Bodoland movement in 1987 it has seen mixture of both – one side is politics other side is politics of gun. Lots of violence is taking place since 1987 and as a result of this violence Government of India came into an agreement and created what you call BAC - Bodoland autonomous council in 1993. That time Bodos were not given a kind of territory; a council was created without any territory for the welfare of these Bodo people. Government of India signed that agreement with a student body called ABSU (All Bodo Students' Union) in 1993.
Agitators then demanded a territory, a state of Bodoland, (and gave the slogan) “Divide the state 50/50.” Statistically that is not possible. Divide state 50/50 means leave 94% one side and 6% gets the rest. Government of India then constituted a committee called Bhupinder Singh committee, which explored all possibilities of making Bodoland territory and then he came to the conclusion, that because all these Bodos are not living in one place – near one Bodo village Bengalis are living then Assamese, next a Nepali, tribal, again Bodo – hence we cannot give them a territorial council. The movement then started again. And this time movement was more ferocious, more violent, and in the meantime what we can see the emergence of a resurgent group called Bodo Security Force. Later on Bodo Security Force was divided into two groups - National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT).
During this movement there was lot of violence that was taking place. The place where they wanted to create Bodoland, Bodos were not in majority and that was the problem. The insurgent group therefore took the responsibility in a silent way to create a majority for the Bodos in that area as a result they engaged in lot of ethnic cleansing, beginning with the killings of a large number of Santhals, who had come from Jharkhand long back, and then gradually on Muslims and they attacked Assamese, all the people. Non-Bodos population suffered at the hands of Bodo insurgents.
And consequently Government of India started talking, this time not with the ABSU, but this time with the insurgent group called BLT, and that excluded again the NDFB. So the government had an agreement with the BLT and this time the government gave them a territorial autonomy, Bodoland Autonomous Territorial Districts (BATD), but the same thing has happened where Bodos do not constitute the majority.
Significantly while 1993 accord was signed with a student body and next agreement in 2003 was signed with between an insurgent group BLT and the GoI, this is a serious matter. You can see the emergence and consolidation of the insurgent group where they could negotiate with GoI and government in turn gave them an autonomous council and asked them to run the autonomous council. And they were supposed to surrender all their arms, but everyone in Assam knows they have not surrendered all their arms
So 2003 officially after surrendering, what the government calls mainstreaming and coming into negotiation one group has become a part of the council and they started ruling over the entire population in the Bodoland area. Even in Bodoland they do not constitute more than one-third of the total population. This one-third population, as per the new rule was given the power to rule over 70% of the population for the interim period.
Professor Monirul Hussian, HoD of Political Science Department at Gauhati University
TCN: And there was no election…
MH: Consequently there were elections, but seats were reserved for them. Out of 40 seats 30 seats were stat reserved for the tribals, only 5 were open for other categories that are for remaining 70 %.
Another significant thing that happened was all over India we have grassroot system of Panchayati raj. In Bodoland area prior to the creation of Bodoland we had the Panchayati raj, but after 2003 Panchayati raj system as removed. So people who have been in Panchayati raj at the grassroot level are deprived of their right. There is no provision for such elected representative in the Bodoland accord, which is considered a serious deficit, a democratic deficit.
So only ex-insurgents were nominated as members of the BTC, that has very severe deficiency of democracy and severe deficiency of representation of people in that body.
To begin with there has been lot of fight between two insurgent groups – NDFB and BLT. It is not that the non-Bodos have been killed by Bodo militants. Bodo militants have killed their own people. A large number of Bodos were killed by Bodo militants themselves, and there is feticidal fight between two insurgent groups. And recently there has been attempt to eliminate Muslims or non-Bodo groups so as to create majority for the Bodos.
TCN: But still we don’t see such anger against those issues even on streets of Guwahati, but against the foreigner issue…
MH: The Assam politics in very complex. It is a very very heterogeneous state, and there is large number of groups speaking as many languages. Many people outside may not even know what is happening. I am again saying the Bodo militants killed more Bodos than any others between 2003 to 2009.
But the way they have been able to terrorise the non-Bodos, particularly the Muslims that is enormous and this I am again saying is part of ethnic cleansing to create a majority by force in the Bodoland area.
TCN: But there is general notion over huge illegal migration, not only from Bangladesh but even from Nepal, etc. and the fear that they will change the demography of the state?
MH: The issue of illegal migration has been taken up by the RSS, BJP and some other Chauvinistic forces. No secular party, say Left parties, Congress or any liberal party is saying that kind of migration has taken place.
Yes some kind of migration has taken place and mind you migration is a very complex phenomenon. Bodoland is not a new area, it was part of Goalpara district till 1983, that bordered East Bengal, that later became East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. Most of the people in Goalpara migrated from East Bengal when it was part of the same country. But if you look East Bengal today it is Bangladesh (a separate country), so many people are using a wrong notion that they migrated.
If you look at the history of Assam large number of Muslims settled in later part of the 19th century. In 20th century, particularly during the British rule, from 1920 onwards till 1940 massive migration from East Bengal to Assam took place. And most of this migration was encouraged by the colonial rulers. And that was an internal migration in the same country because the country was not divided. So what was legal till 1947 became illegal after 1947 and many people try to mix up and exaggerate the problem.
TCN: But do you think that the trend of migration from Bangladesh still continues…
MH: It is absolute nonsense. When there was violence against Muslims of East Bengal origin took place, BSF (Border Security Forces) that look after the borders between India and Bangladesh said that no such migration is taking place. And it is very wild kind of belief that some ordinary people from Bangladesh will come to India to create problems here.
Moreover, in human development index, Bangladesh is performing very well, their HDI is much better than many of the developed Indian states, then why should they migrate to India. Even their economy is doing well for last ten years… It would be very foolish to assume that people migrating from Bangladesh do not know what is happening in India for last 20 years or so, and what has happened to the people of East Bengal origin here in last 20 years or so, beginning with the 1983 Nellie massacres and all that…
Even some of the officers, IAS officers, IPS officers, senior railway officers are scared to come to Assam, do you think in such a situation people from Bangladesh will migrate en mass, I find it difficult to understand. Census also does not support that there has been massive migration of population.
TCN: But increase in population is creating fear…
MH: See 1952 onwards, Muslim population has been roughly 25 %. Now it is about 30 %. In last 61 years there is increase in 5 %, but this is not because of migration. If you go to Muslim villages, their socio-economic condition is pathetic; the community has largely remained economically and educationally backward. And everywhere in the world you will find that those communities which are marginalised which are poor their fertility rate is higher than those which are middle class.
TCN: In a way you are supporting what chief minister of state Tarun Gagoi said in an interview to a national TV…
MH: It is not supporting chief minister, I wrote it long back.
See in two lakh cases about 6000 were proved to be “foreigners” by lower court level tribunals. But in getting those 6000 more than one lakh ninety four thousand people were unnecessarily harassed. And these were all Muslims. A large number of people experience these legalistic harassments in Assam.
TCN: Do you see some kind of communal angle to this whole issue?
MH: Oh yes. Bodo Accord was signed in 2003 when in Delhi it was the BJP led government and Lal Krishna Advani was the Home Minister. At that time there were two groups of (Bodo) insurgents – NDFB and BLT. In NDFB most of their cadres are Christianised Bodos and BLT, most of them are Hinduised Bodos. So the BJP government excluded the Chrisitianised insurgents from these talks and that has again extended the divide between the BLT and the NDFB, and further Muslims also. And that is the reason that led to the massive killing of what you call the feticidal killing within the Bodos.
TCN: Any final thought…
MH: Yes, Assam is a society of migrants. All are migrants, including Bodos. No one is aboriginal here. Differences are that some came earlier some came little later and therefore I say that we all migrants of different layers. If they accept that we all are migrants, as layers of migrants then problem will be solved. But if you want to create a problem of who came late or who came earlier that is a different matter.