The 6th August attack in Balajan Tiniali market was the latest in the line of violent attacks that left Kokrajhar in shock and chaos. Unidentified gunmen opened fire at the main market in Balajan which left 14 people dead and close to 20 injured. There was an exchange of fire between the police and the alleged militants which left one militant dead. The police later declared the militant to be Monjoy Islary, a member of the anti-talk faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland led by I K Songbijit. This is the only active insurgent organisation in Bodoland which has often indulged in such public attacks.
Politics of Violence
NDFB (S)’s secretary B R Ferenga was quick to clarify that their organisation had nothing to do with the attack and called it a conspiracy by the State institutions to tarnish the image of the organisation. While the militant organisation has achieved enough notoriety for killing innocent women and children of the Muslim as well as the Adivasi community, their quick response to this incident further complicated the issue.
This violence can in fact be traced back to the early days of Bodoland Movement when armed militancy took up the cause of a separate independent Bodoland. Throughout 1990s, non-Bodo communities like Nepalis, Hindu Bengalis, Muslims and Adivasis have been targeted by armed Bodo groups. Dr Barek, a dentist, who struggled through various hardships remembers how his family along with many others were displaced during the 1992-93 violence in Kokrajhar and forced to live in refugee camps. The late 1990s also saw ethnic clashes between the Bodos and Adivasis which led to massive displacement among the latter.
Bodoland for All
The BAC formed in 1993 had some semblance of a solution but failed to fulfill the aspirations of the people. It was only with the creation of Bodoland Territorial Council which also saw the amalgamation of close to 515 villages with less than 50% Bodo population to ensure geographical continuity that some Bodo militant groups came to the mainstream. This has, however, been a bone of contention among the non-Bodos who feel under-represented in the BTC.
BTAD also saw ethnic clashes between Bodos and Muslims at frequent intervals. The clash in 2012 started with the killing of two youths by unidentified gunmen. The conflict that followed left around 100 people dead and a few lakhs displaced. The clash was bitter enough to drive a wedge between the two communities. Nijira Brahma, a resident of Tipkai says that since the clash Muslim workers have stopped coming to Bodo villages to work on their agricultural fields. It has not only created difficulty for the people but ruptured the age-old equation of interdependence that the communities had. Bodos were targeted outside BTAD in places like Dhubri. The old Brahma Boarding House which the author remembers seeing since childhood was burnt to the ground by an angry Muslim mob.
Build Bridges, Not Prejudice
The 2012 violence saw communities drifting apart from each other and the media further complicated matters by putting the blame on the shoulders of alleged Bangladeshi migrants. A humanitarian crisis was soon given a political colour. Frequent outbursts of violence have led to many people out- migrating from the area. Targeted killings in BTAD have been pretty common. Illegal arms are easily available and many ex militant factions are still actively involved in kidnappings, extortion etc. The NDFB (S) has been accused of killing civilians whom they suspect of being police informers and taxing villagers on a regular basis.
The later part of 2014 saw an inhuman massacre of Adivasis carried out by NDFB. The casualty was again dominantly women and children. The State government was forced to ensure action and Operation All Out was declared against the militants. While the Operation was able to restrict the activity of the militants, the outfit is yet to be defunct. There is much to be known about the recent violent attack in Balajan Tiniali. While the government might pin it as a response to the counter-terrorism operation of army or the quest for NDFB to be relevant, there is a need to rethink about a solution to the problem.
The demand for a separate Bodoland has not died down completely but it also now sees an assertion of security by non-Bodos who feel threatened by the idea of a homeland build on exclusivist ethnic lines. There is a need to strike a balance between the cultural and political rights of an ethnic community and just representation of the interests of the non-Bodos who comprise a sizeable part of the population of BTAD. The aim should be to build bridges and not construct barriers amongst various communities.
The author is working as an Assistant Professor in P B College, Gauripur and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org