Why are the Bodos on a short fuse all the time? As another conflagration sweeps across the Bodoland districts—nearly 50 people have been killed and 170,000 rendered homeless so far in the latest one—the time is apt to revisit the crux of the problem.
It’s unfortunate that the largest and the oldest plain tribe in Assam with a rich cultural history would be known for conflicts only. It has indeed been a trouble-torn history -- the Bodos have found themselves at war with different people from time to time with devastating results for both sides in the conflict. Their leaders would say it is about rights, not alone claim over land and local resources.
"It is not land issue alone. It is deprivation on several fronts. Our areas remain underdeveloped," All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) president Pramod Boro told Firstpost from Kokrajhar over telephone. He would not admit that Bodos are prone to picking up fights. "With the Assamese and Bengali population we have led a fairly peaceful life. In 1996, we had an ethnic clash with the Adivasis. But I believe that it was a third force that ignited the fire between the Santhals and the Bodos," Boro said.
The Bodo-Santhal conflict which broke out in May 1996 in Kokrajhar and Gossaigaon resulted in the displacement of over 250,000 people. The fight started again in 1998 triggering another wave of exodus from both communities. In both the conflicts, hundreds lost their lives. During the dreaded 90s, militancy reached its peak in Bodoland, particularly in Kokrajhar district.
It is no secret that Bodo militant groups like the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and Bodo Liberation Tigers Front used gun power to scare away non-Bodo population from Bodo areas. The groups used force to assert their dominance in areas where they were in minority. The Adivasi Cobra Force, the Santhal militant wing, was born out of the relentless attack.
Boro, however, chose to differ. "The enquiry commission set up by the state government to look into the Bodo-Santhal conflict never gave its report. So it is wrong to blame the Bodos for the conflict. I still believe that some outside force were behind this. If you go to a village today, you will find that both Bodos and Santhals are co-existing peacefully," the ABSU president said. Given the history of conflicts this only appears partial truth. The Bodos have been in fight against Bengalis too though it never escalated to unmanageable levels.
The latest conflict involves Bangladeshi migrants. According to Bodo leaders, there has been large scale influx of illegal migrants to the Bodo districts. The local population is now at the risk of turning into a minority. The increasing population increases pressure on common economic resources too, they maintain. "Bangladeshis are filling Assam every day. This is not a secret…They would no longer be a minority. They would be majority very soon. Bangladeshis are a real threat." Kameswar Brahma, president, Bodo Sahitya Sabha (BSS), agrees. When there would be pressure from external population, temperature will simmer, he said.
Anjali Daimari, convenor, Bodo National Conference, said, "In the 80s and 90s the Muslim population was so less. Today the indigenous population is facing a threat. People now say we are just a 20 percent of the population."
Boro pointed out that new non-Bodo organisations coming out in BTAD areas were a matter of concern. "These non-Bodo organisations are working against the interest of the Bodos and also the non-Bodos. They are instigating a sense of insecurity among the non-Bodo population in Bodo areas," the ABSU chief said.
Brahma blamed the mess in the Bodo areas directly on the Central government. "The Centre has failed to provide rights to the Bodos and Santhals. Even though we have the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) under the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) it is more or less toothless," Brahma told Firstpost. "The state government is also neglecting the Bodo areas. Had the BTC got full administrative and police power the present situation would not have escalated to this extent. Lack of executive power to the body worsened the situation," he said, adding lack of opportunity and years of neglect have put the Bodos in a state of distress."
Both called for short and long term policies to end the recurring violence. "There is an urgent need to review the entire internal security scenario in our areas. The entire law and order situation needs an evaluation and reorganisation to instil confidence among people," Boro said.