A few months earlier, I was shown a picture where minor girls were seen posing with automatic rifles in what appeared to be a fairly large guerilla training camp. The location was not identified but the group was said to be National Democratic Front of Bodoland’s Songbijit faction. I couldn’t authenticate the source of the picture, so I didn’t use it, but there was enough evidence with the security agencies that this armed faction was recruiting and its strength had increased. That they would strike anytime was but obvious. Except, this faction may not have carried out the recent Kokrajhar massacre.
From whatever information is available to the State agencies, it seems that the shooter who could be seen moving through the crowd had split from the S faction and was leading a group of around five militants, two of whom were killed a week before the shooting. The press note recovered from the site had marked the date of the incident as on the previous haat or market day. Clearly, it was premeditated and not a lone wolf attack. But suicide attacks have not been part of tribal insurgency so this strike made observers curious. The shooter died in the attack. All that has been ascertained is that he had consumed alcohol but what is not clear is whether he carried this out entirely on his own or did he follow instructions? The police are also investigating who first insinuated the ‘Jihadi’ connection that found takers even in the national media that afternoon. Polarising pressure groups have been on the prowl in that fragile territory ever since the deadly riots of 2012 that displaced a few lakhs and killed over a 100 people.
Bodoland’s history of violence is probably the worst in the country. Between 1992- 2001, the NDFB alone is responsible for killing 1804 people. The successive waves of terror displaced more than 10 lakh people. Several thousands could never find their way back home. The BLT or the Bodo Liberation Tigers who surrendered and are now part of the ruling dispensation after joining politics have been extremely violent in their ways. But what has been more alarming is that this violence was not merely terrorist in nature but was targeted at ethnic cleansing for sovereignty and a separate homeland or the 50-50 division of Assam.
Bodoland is not just a homeland of the Bodo community; it has other ethnic groups as well. Within the Bodoland Territorial Council, the Bodos make up for only 30% of the population but have dictated terms through the elite ethnic dominance. The armed groups riding on the Bodo aspiration of a separate state (now the sovereignty demand has softened) have targeted the two groups that posed the stiffest challenge to their hegemony; the Adivasis and Bengali Muslims.
Where does Bodoland go from here? The sense of hostility between the communities is so intense that any peace building effort may be frustrating.
Impunity, proliferation of guns and violent assertion of identity patronized by the State for electoral gains shall continue to fragment the people and unleash more violence.
Identifying the gunmen would only be an exercise in securitising the area but where are the guns coming from, why are the young ones taking to them, what are the gains those stakeholders have in fomenting violence? It is imperative that people in Bodoland will have to understand the inevitability of inclusive society and learn to live together for any peace efforts or development to even start seeding.
Kishalay Bhattacharjee is a Delhi-based journalist and author