The deplorable incidents of arson and killing in Udalguri district of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and the adjacent Darrang district over the past week, in which more than 40 people have died, follow a pattern of violence and massive displacement of populations seen in ‘ethnic’ clashes in Assam since the bloodstained elections of February 1983. The adversaries in these clashes are the Bodos, the largest of the Plains Tribes, and Muslims of immigrant stock living in and adjacent to the four districts of the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD). At least two generations accounting for an overwhelming majority of these Muslims were born in this country after 1947 and so are legitimate citizens — the often-used appellation ‘illegal migrants’ is therefore inaccurate. However, fears of continued illegal migration from Bangladesh, the issues thrown up during the Assam agitation of 1979-85, and the terms of the (unimplementable) Assam accord have repeatedly opened up the question of their nationality.
Tensions occasionally peaking in violence involving the indigenous population and the ‘migrants’ are not new in Assam. However, while common economic interests have brought about a grudging accommodation between the migrants and the Assamese people, tensions between the tribal people and the ‘migrants’ still persist. Indeed, following the Assam accord and the readiness of the leaders of the Assam agitation to make peace with their one-time adversaries, the anti-migrant passions are articulated most strongly by tribal organisations. The Assam Tribal Sangha, for instance, has been relentless in its resolve to get the ‘foreigners’ out of the tribal areas. Anxieties over ‘illegal migration from Bangladesh’ are stronger than ever in the other, overwhelmingly tribal, States in the North-East. The root cause for this persistence is the pernicious ideology of ‘ethnic’ mobilisation, seeking to attain internally coherent homelands. A case in point is the movement for a Bodo ‘homeland’. The reality is that the population of the Scheduled Tribes (not all necessarily Bodo) in the BTAD area is just slightly over 50 per cent — 1,354,227 out of a total population of 2,631,289. While the Scheduled Castes’ population of 137,544 (5.22 per cent), comprising mainly the Adivasi and ex-Tea garden labour, has been relatively inconsequential, more problematic for Bodo nationalists is the substantial non-tribal population constituting 43.29 per cent. It is this section, especially the Muslim component — feared for historical reasons, though both the tribal people and the religious minorities suffer equal deprivation — that has come under attack.
6 months ago