Money is not what the troubled Bodoland needs. It needs a healing touch.
Peace is back in the riot-hit districts after close to a fortnight. However, the sense of unease is hard to miss. It is an enforced peace, not a normal one. Thanks to flag march by the Army and intensive patrolling by paramilitary forces, locals from the violence-hit villages have slowly started leaving the camps. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced a package of Rs 300 crore for rebuild measures and there are financial aid from the state and other sources.
But will money be able to buy peace in the strife-torn districts? Not many think so.
“It is a complex scenario. We have to address the problem at multiple layers. Mere allocation of Rs 300 crore is not enough. There is a huge demographic imbalance, underdevelopment and prolonged negligence of these areas,” Chandan Kumar Sharma, professor at the Department of Sociology, Tezpur University, told Firstpostfrom Tezpur.
“This is high time we faced the reality. There is an immediate need to curb infiltration through the porous India-Bangladesh border. We must also accept that sending the illegal migrants back is not easy. The issue, thanks to government’s dilly dallying, has only given rise to more complications polarizing the relationship between original Muslim immigrants and the indigenous groups. The need of the hour is to find an arrangement which safeguards the interest of the indigenous people without alienating the immigrants,” he added.
He believes pressure on local resources due to the growing immigrant population is the primary reason behind the continuing trouble in the area. The migrant population makes the local population feel “politically, economically and demographically marginalised”, he said.
In the 2001 census alone, the Muslims were over 50 percent of the population in six district while in some others districts they were the single largest community.
“This has unnerved the indigenous population. Indo-Bangladesh border being extremely porous, a significant section of the immigrant population may not be bona fide Indian citizens,” he added.
Pramod Boro, president, All Assam Bodo Students’ Union, shared many of Sharma’s views.
“The tribals have their own aspirations. They are facing an identity crisis and struggling to get their political rights…The violence involving different ethnic tribes is about rights too. The illegal migrants have made an already complex situation worse. As of now, there is lack of political will, no sincerity, no dedication and no commitments to address the problem,” Boro told Firstpost. He wants the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the electoral role updated immediately to keep track of the migrants.
The big issue in the trouble-prone districts—Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhuburi—is land.
“By land, I also mean water, forest and agriculture. It is a crisis of resources and a lack of access to resources. From this scarcity has emerged the ethnic and communal strifes,” said Sharma. Boro added to the point, saying the land rights of Bodos should be restored as per the Assam Land Revenue Regulation Act, 1886. The provisions of the Act were scrapped in the BTAD norms in 2003, granting land ownership to all Indians. This facilitated illegal migrants to gain control over land.
“What we want is rights to our own land. We are not an aggressive tribe and we are not seizing anyone else’s property. We want to lead an isolated and peaceful life,” Anjali Daimari, the convenor of Bodo National Conference (BNC), said.
The professor pointed out to the dilly-dallying tactic of the government on the sensitive issue. He also blamed the government for not implementing the Assam Accord of 1985 in letter and spirit as another reason for these tensions.
“Now the government must ensure that all channels of communication are open so that further polarisation between communities does not happen. All steps must be taken to stop illegal immigration. The NRC should be immediately updated taking all parties on board,” Sharma said while talking about solutions to this burning issue.
He critised the government for the mindless creation of autonomous councils.
“Our state is multi-cultural and there are many ethnic groups. The demands for ethnic autonomous councils are exclusivist in nature and have already triggered polarisation not only among immigrants and the aspiring indigenous groups, but also among indigenous groups themselves. We also have many non-Bodos, many of them indigenous, in the BTAD area who have been opposing the Bodoland Territorial Council as they feel marginalized in their own land. By promoting the idea of exclusive ethnic homeland the government is only fanning the flames of ethnic fire,” he said.
The All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union (ABMSU), president Sultan Alam had a completely different view although there were some common grounds.
“The Muslims are the most dominated group in India after independence. BTAD has taken us 100 years back. We want it to be scrapped. For us, all-round development means impetus for academic, economic and political enhancement and establishment of a minority cell. We also want all illegal firearms to be seized for peace and tranquility,” Alam said.
He said increasing interactions between the two communities could help.