Who is responsible for Assam massacre?

By Gladson Dungdung


In the Indian political map, clear boundaries have been drawn for the Adivasis, and when they cross those; their identity is suspected, questioned and changed immediately. One can stunned to know that as soon as they leave their territories, they are counted in the general category and their constitutional and legal rights are denied officially.  But at the same time, the same sets of rules are not applied to the people of the privileged sections of the India society. Of course, it keeps happening with the Adivasis precisely because the Indian state is utterly biased against them on the basis of their race. But still they have no choice to cross the political boundaries because their own land, territory and resources have been grabbed in the name of economic growth, development of the nation and for the greater common good unconstitutionally and illegally. Thus, some of them cross their political boundaries in search of the better livelihood opportunities but most of them are forced to do so. However, the end result is, they are being slaughtered, raped, tortured, imprisoned and discriminated actors across the country.

Unfortunately, instead of resolving the problems, the Indian state seems to be more interested in deploying more troops in the Adivasis’ territory, imposing curfews, shooting them, running relief camps and of course, buying their dead bodies too. Besides, the state also blames the Adivasis for their miseries. In the recent Assam violence unleashed by the extremist outfit the ‘National Democratic Front of Bodoland’ (Songbijit), where 81 people mostly the Adivasis were brutally killed, which also includes the killing of 3 innocent people by our brave soldiers, using their mighty power of ‘shoot on sight order’ while villagers were protesting against the violence. Besides, 15,000 people were made homeless and forced to live in the relief camps. Since, inception of the state called ‘India’ has been buying the dead bodies so Rs 500,000 was paid for each dead body this time too. Is it not a shameful incident for the largest democracy on the Earth? How long the state would count the dead bodies and buy them?

Interestingly, whenever the violence erupts in Assam, the Indian political class portrays it as the outcome of an ‘ethnic clash’. The state, whose prime responsibility is to uphold the constitution, which guarantees a dignified life to each and everyone in the country, either becomes merely a mute spectator or party to it. The questions need to be raised are, why is the Indian state not able to resolve the ethnic clash in Assam? Is it merely an ethnic violence? Is it not the state sponsored political violence in the name of the ethnicity?  Indeed, everyone knows that the prime reason of violence is ‘self determination in the territory’. The Bodo Tribes claim that they are the owners of the territory so the other people should desert it. Besides, infiltration, demographic change, loss of land, shrinking of livelihood opportunities and intensified competition for political power have intensified a deadly potency to the issue of who has a right to Assam. Thus, the Adivasis are called the outsiders by Bodos and indeed, the state was never serious to resolve the issue in fear of losing the political mandate, consequently the violence continues.

Of course, it’s very difficult to understand the algebra of scheduling of the ‘Tribes’ in India. For instance, the webpage of the ‘Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ states two very strange aspects regarding the identity of the ‘Scheduled Tribes’. On the one hand, it describes that a person migrates from one state to another, he can claim to belong to a scheduled tribe, only in relation to the state to which he originally belonged and not in respect of the state to which he has migrated, and on the other hand, it also states that a person who is a member of a schedule tribe would continue to be a member of that scheduled Tribe, even after his or her marriage with a person who does not belong to a Scheduled Tribe. Why there are two different parameters for the same Adivasis? How can the persons born as Adivasis fall into general category just after crossing their state’s boundary whereas marrying to non-Adivasis make no difference? Why do the upper caste people enjoy the same rights and privileges across the country but Adivasis don’t? Is it not the state sponsored crime against them?

The state sponsored crime against the Adivasis of Assam[1] had begun in ‘1950 by denying them the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the Indian Constitution’[2]. However, the crime was mated out on them in large scale in ‘1996 in forms of the ‘ethnic cleansing’, where 10,000 Adivasis had been killed, thousands of them were injured and more than 200,000 were made homeless and compelled to live in the relief camps for more than 15 years’[3]. Similarly, on November 24, 2007, about ‘5000 Adivasis comprising of men, women and children were attacked in Beltola of Guwahati while they were attending a peaceful procession in demand of the Schedule Tribe status[4] for them. They were attacked by the local people of Beltola including shopkeepers. Consequently ‘300 Adivasis were brutally wounded, hit by bamboos, iron rods and bricks. More than one dead, women were raped and a teenage girl Laxmi Oraon was stripped, chased and kicked’[5]. As usual, the ‘police either remained mute spectators or joined the crowd in brutality’[6]. However, instead of protecting the Adivasis, the government justified the brutalities and fixed blame on the Adivasis organizations for it.

In 2010, the Assam Government forcefully evicted the Adivasis of Lungsung forest block located at Kokrajhar district of Assam, where they had settled down ‘much earlier than 1965[7]. However, the forest department claimed that they had encroached the highly biodiversity forest though there was no such forest anymore. Thus, the forest department launched an eviction move and had deployed the forest protection force for evicting the Adivasis. In this process, the forest protection force burnt down 67 villages to asses. Consequently, 7013 Adivasis including 3869 adults and 3144 minors belonging to 1267 families were affected. 2 year-old boy Mangal Hembrom died after struggling between life and death for more than 2 months as he was half burnt during the eviction process. ‘40 people who were leading the protests against the eviction, arrested and later on 7 of them (students) were released and rest 33 men were sent to Kokrajhar jail’[8]. However, after protest and legal intervention they were also released.

Historically, the Adivasis were brought to the state of Assam in three different circumstances. Firstly, the ‘Adivasis in general and Santals in particulars were brought to Assam for their resettlement after the Santal Revolt of 1855’[9].They were settled down especially in the ‘western part, now in the north-west of Kokrajhar district. This settlement is recorded as in the year 1881’[10]. Secondly, in ‘1880 the tea industry grew very fast, numbers of tea garden were started led to scarcity of labourers in Assam therefore the planters appointed agents and sent them to different places for recruitment of labourers’[11]. Thus, the Adivasis were ‘coerced, kidnapped and incited to come to Assam, live and work under appalling conditions’[12]. Thirdly, in large scale of land alienation for the development projects also pushed the Adivasis into Assam in search of the livelihood as there were many job opportunities in the tea gardens. Thus the Adivasis settled down in the state of Assam. Over the period of time, they also cleared the trees and bushes, and made cultivable land by shedding their sweat and blood.

Obviously, the Adivasis were also enjoying the ‘Scheduled Tribe (ST) status during the British rules. However, after India’s independence, they were de-scheduled in 1947 and when the Indian constitution was enacted in 1950, they were considered as outsiders as then the Chief Minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi opposed the scheduling of the Adivasis of Assam’[13]. Whereas, the same ethnic groups enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST), rights and privileges in their parental states i.e. Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa but they are denied in the state of Assam. The government merely recognizes them as either tea or ex-tea tribe. Consequently, the people of Assam also treat them as sub-human and called them as Coolie-Bengali or labourers with the derogatory remark and ton. This is a classic example of discrimination with Adivasis by the state and the society.

The Adivasis are discriminated in every level, which is of course, a crime.  For example, in ‘1974 the government evicted the people but after strong people’s resistance the government had promised them to give land entitlements’[14]. At that time, Samar Brahma was the forest minister and as per his promised he started the process of land allocation in phased manner. However, he allocated the land to the ‘Bodos and some other communities. With his expulsion the process of land allocation also stopped’[15]. Thus, the Adivasis were betrayed. Similarly, according to the Forest Rights Act 2006, the Adivasis are entitled to claim their rights on the forest land which they posses before December 13, 2005. However, the Adivasis of Assam are denied their rights under the FRA as well. In fact, the ‘Adivasis have been living in Lungsung Forest areas much earlier than 1965’[16] but they were not given rights and entitlement on the forest lands which they have been cultivating for decades. 

Indeed, the history of Assam suggests that the ‘state is itself a problem, not the solution’[17]. There are more than 70,00,000 Adivasis’[18] residing in the state of Assam are still not recognized as the ‘Scheduled Tribe’ merely because of the political reasons of losing the Bodo voters. However, the most stunning factor in this episode is the complete silence of the outspoken India Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He has not yet opened his mouth on Assam massacre though the national wants to know his reaction. On 25 December, 2014, he was much busy in celebrating ‘good governance day’ when the Adivasis of Assam were burying the dead bodies and crying for justice. But why is he silent? Is it only because the victims are the marginalized people? Is it merely because the most of the victims were used to follow the Christianity? How can the head of the state be such a narrow minded, biased and selective one? Or does he open his mouth only for the political gain?

The track record of Narendra Modi shows that after taking auth as the Prime Minister, he has spent most of his time either with the corporate sharks or in wooing voters in the political campaigns. However, it’s the right time for him to show his courage of action to protect the rights of the Adivasis as he has been preaching in the Adivasis’ territory. The ruling elites also must understand that the violence of Assam is not merely confined to the ethnic violence but it has become the political ethnic violence well scripted and sponsored by the state. Therefore, it is high need of the hour to uproot the main roots of the violence instead of taking side with the intension to serve the political interest. Since the ethnic problem of Assam is political therefore the solution will be the political. But a billion dollar question is who will bell the cat?

[1] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it anyway? Kolkata: Adivaani.

[2] N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.

[3] Ibid

[4] N.A. 2007. Beltola Violence and its Political dimension. Guwahati: The Assam tribune.  December 1.

[5] Ibid

[6] N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.

[7] N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.

[8] Ibid

[9] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur. 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House. p 78

[10] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur. 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House. p 48

[11] Gokhale, Nitin A. 1998. The Hot Brew: The Assam Tea Industry’s most turbulent decade. Guwahati:SP. p 6

[12] Ibid

[13] N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Tully, Mark. 2003. India in Slow Motion. New Delhi: Penguin Books. p xiv.

[18] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur. 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House. p 78

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s