Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, July 2012
Bodo-Muslim Clashes in Indian Assam and Racist Hindutva Politics
By Asghar Ali Engineer
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 31, 2012
Two Circles Net, July 31, 2012
Much has been written in newspapers by now about the disaster that occurred in lower Assam Kokrajhar and three other districts. About 58 persons have died since 6th July though main clashes occurred from 19th July onwards and now some kind of uneasy calm prevails. More than 4 lakh have become refugees living in 27 different camps of which 3 lakh are Muslims. Newspapers generally narrate events and hardly analyze or give reasons on the basis of in-depth study.
Chief Minister Mr. Gogoi was angry when someone said Assam is burning Assam is indeed burning. The conflict there is much wider than Bodo-Muslim clashes in Kokrajhar or in BTC (Bodo Territorial Council). Assam communal riots are one, among many other manifestations of this conflict. There will be no peace in Assam unless the false propaganda about migration of Bangladeshi Muslims is resolved.
Dulal Ali showing his fractured hand on 23 August 2008. He was beaten up by a Bodo youth
AASU movement of eighties and its concomitant bloodshed in Nellie in 1983 was its first manifestation. In Nellie it was between Bengali speaking Muslims (branded as Bangladeshis) and Lalung tribe and in these riots more than 3,000 Muslims were killed. They were all killed in the name of Bangladeshis and there was terrible fear among Assamese Muslims too. When I went for investigation no Assamese Muslim was prepared to speak due to fear.
In 2008 too there were clashes between Muslims and Bodos clashed and around 55 persons were killed. Most of these Muslims described as Bangladeshi are those that migrated into the areaduring the British period. In Nellie, Bengali Muslims had told me that they had migrated in early thirties or even before and most of them were brought to Assam to work as agricultural labouerers. They are quite hard working and Assamese Ahoms and hill tribe Lalung are easy going and are not willing to work hard on char lands. Unfortunately in Nellie though almost 3,000 people were killed, these riots have been totally forgotten. Even no official inquiry was also held as if no major disaster had taken place.
The rightwing BJP had added much fuel in propagating that Bangladeshi Muslims are migrating in large numbers giving highly exaggerated figures without any basis. Today there is widespread network of RSS since eighties and it has been systematically working there to create cleavage between Hindus and Muslims though historically there has been communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims and in creating this harmony Shakr Deo on one hand, and, Azan Fakir, on the other have played very important role.
This harmony does not suit BJP for its Hindutva politics and hence it has picked up Bangladeshi issue to divide Hindus and Muslims. It is because for BJP it is not easy to attack Assamese Muslims due to historical harmony but easy to create division in the name of Bangladeshi Muslims. It is not to deny that there are Bengali speaking Muslims in Assam and that few Bengali speaking Muslims have migrated in recent times too both from Bangla Desh and other areas like West Bengal.
But most of them are from British time and there is no scientific collection of data to show how many have recently migrated from Bangladesh. There is no national register too. After all it is propaganda and propaganda is based, at best, on half-truth and only succeeds in creating confusion and division among people. And the allegation that the Congress is allowing Bangladeshi Muslims to migrate to convert them into its vote-bank has naturally powerful appeal among anti-Congress forces.
Sahidul Islam was injured in firing by Bodo mob on 17th August 2008 in Saprabari village, Assam
Assam will be on turmoil until this issue is resolved and it is not only Bangladeshis or Bengali speaking Muslims who are migrating to Assam but many others like Biharis are also migrating who are Hindi speaking. Marwaris from Rajasthan have also migrated and control trade in all parts of North East. But the propaganda machinery is in full swing talking about Bangladeshi Muslims thanks to certain political design.
Bodo Territorial Council
Another cause of these clashes is creating of BODO TERRITORIAL COUNCIL in an area where Bodos are only 29 per cent and rest are non-Bodos including Bengali speaking Muslims settled there since the British period and the British had brought them there for cultivation of jute more than 100 years ago. The Central Government did this to buy peace with militant Bodos who are demanding Bodo state in Assam.
How can one create Bodo Territorial Council and give them powers for development and other matters when they are just 29 per cent. All non-Bodo people feel aggrieved and want the Council to be repealed. They feel they are not getting due share in development. The Bodos, on the other hand, want to increase their number in that area so that they become the majority and creation of Bodo Territorial Council could be justified.
Another thing which is the cause of this turmoil is that Bodo militants who were supposed to surrender arms never did so and these militants roam around freely with their guns. The flow of arms has never stopped and government has never taken steps to disarm these Bodos, mainly for political reasons. The ruling alliance has Bodo National Front as its constituent and the Chief Minister does not want to displease the Bodos.
What happened in Kokrajhar district began with 4 Bodo youth who came on motor cycle on 6th July with guns and killed two Muslims and ran away. Nothing was done by the district administration as both Deputy Commissioner and Collector were Bodos. Subsequently unknown people (assumed to be Begali Muslims) killed four ex-militant Bodos and Kokrajhar was on fire. It is now that the Dy. Commissioner and District Magistrate have been removed (of which District Magistrate has been suspended).
If that action had been taken in time much bloodshed and destruction could have been avoided. However, Chief Minister remained silent spectator and did not take stern action. Of course after killing and destruction spread Chief Minister asked for Central Govt’s help and requested for military deployment which was delayed and things went out of control. It, however, must be said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged upon the Chief Minister to take effective steps to stop this madness. He also made it a point to visit the affected areas though Mr. Gogoi did not bother to visit when people were being killed and their homes destroyed.
It must be borne in mind that this is not the first or last rioting in Assam or in Kokrajhar for that matter. If proper steps are not taken much more killing and destruction can follow. The first urgent step to be taken is to disarm Bodo militant youth. Arms are freely flowing and Bodo youth are seen roaming freely with guns and threatening non-Bodos in the area, particularly Muslims.
A part of Saprabari village was burned by Bodo people on 17th August 2008
They are also extorting money from non-Bodos and if they do not pay they walk away with their animals and poultry. This has become great irritant for the people in that area. Disarming them is an urgent measure but it is anybody’s guess whether Government will be able to take this step as Bodos are part of ruling political alliance but there is no other way also.
Secondly, some solution has to be found to the problem of Bodo Territorial Council as Bodos are no more than one-third of the population in that area (even less than that). This probably can be done by increasing share of non-Bodo people in the Council. It was an unjust measure on the part of Central Government to give all powers and majority representation to a minority at the cost of majority non-Bodo people. Besides Muslims there are other people too like Koch Rajbonshis, Santhals and Adivasis though Muslims constitute majority of non-Bodo people. Either the February 2003 agreement about Territorial Council should be annulled or increased share should be given to non-Bodos according to their population.
Thirdly the exaggerated propaganda about Bangladeshi Muslims should stop and all facts about it kept before the nation through scientific data. This has become a major irritant not only in Assam but also in other parts of India.
These are some of the measures which must be taken urgently to defuse the situation. It should not be treated merely as a law and order problem but a political one and political solution has to be found. Some Bodo leaders are making highly irresponsible statements and unfortunately the National Council of Churches of India (NCCI) General Secretary Mr. Roger Gaikwad has also played to the gallery by saying that Bangladeshi Muslims have occupied 10,000 square kms of territory has been occupied by these (Bangladeshi) migrants. It is very unfortunate and irresponsible statement. It is result of general propaganda going on about Bangladeshi Muslims.
It is unfortunate that next door in Myanmar Rohingya Muslims are being killed under the same excuse by the Military Government and here in India Bengali Muslims are being killed though we are a democracy. Only difference is that here Central Government, especially Manmohan Singh has taken some urgent steps to put out fire and to render financial relief by announcing a Rs.300 crore package and Myanmar Military dictatorship is mercilessly destroying Rohingya Muslims and justifying it.
Migration cannot be stopped altogether but it should not be allowed to be politically exploited by highly exaggerating the figures. In order to maintain peace one has to use political wisdom and ensure stability for the linguistic and ethnic others who have been living here for more than a century.
-- Asghar Ali Engineer is an author based in Mumbai.
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