Stray incidents of violence in Assam’s Kokrajhar and adjoining districts over the last four days have put under threat the fragile peace in the region. Ethnic violence in the region had claimed 99 lives in July-August this year and led to a large humanitarian crisis. The latest spate of violence has claimed five lives already.
However, the police appear well-prepared this time. Unlike in July-August, when they allowed the situation to slip out of control despite piles of intelligence warnings, in the last four days they have swung into action quickly to nip the trouble in the bud. "The situation is fairly under control. The magistrate has also sought Army assistance and the troops are conducting flag march," GP Singh, Inspector General of Police (BTAD), told Firstpost over phone from Kokrajhar. Singh, however, refused to give any time frame under which the situation would be completely normal.
"I cannot be speculative on that. As and when things happen, we will keep you posted," he said.
However, not many in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), under which the district falls, are impressed with the swift action from the police. BTAD is under the administrative control of the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council covering the districts of Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri.
"We are disheartened. Yes, flag marches are being conducted by the Army. But for whom? Are people not dying despite the Army presence?" All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) chief, Pramod Boro, told Firstpost from Kokrajhar. "There is lack of political will and people continue to live in fear and anxiety. Why did the government fail to arrest a single person for the arson carried out in the summer? All those who were caught were innocent people. The police picked up people from here and there only as suspects. They never had any concrete proof," he added.
Sharing Boro's sense of disappointment, president of All Bodoland Minority Students Union (ABMSU), Sultan Alam, said the recent incidents were a clear case of intelligence failure. The police should arrests the real culprits instead of going on a wild goose chase.
"We don't want the situation to escalate. We have sought an appointment with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to apprise him of the situation. We are also trying to reach out to Bodo organisations and jointly appeal for peace," Alam said.
Reacting to the ABSU president's charge that unknown faces have emerged after the summer riots and are trickling into the villages, he said, "This is a complete lie. No other people have entered the villages. These people were staying in the relief camps and are slowly returning to their homes from the camps."
What has turned out to be a bone of contention between the two communities—Bodo and Muslims—is the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). "What we wanted was that people should live hygienically at the relief camps for six months. During this period, we want the government to update the NRC so that we can clearly know who belongs to this place and who does not," Boro said.
Alam agreed to the NRC update, though conditionally.
"For the NCR to be updated we want 1971 to be the base year and the riot-affected people should return home from the relief camps before the process starts. Otherwise how will they show the papers? Once the relief camps are vacated we will fully cooperate with the agencies concerned," the ABMSU president said.
On 16 August, the government had accepted the recommendations of the cabinet sub-committee on updating the NRC. However, it has started dilly-dallying now, said sources. While groups like the All Assam Students' Union want 1951 as the base year, minority groups like All Assam Minority Students' Union and ABMSU want 1971 to be regarded as the base year for updating the NCR.
The current wave of violence has also affected the farmers who are in the midst of the harvesting season. The district is dependent on agriculture and the failure to reap the harvest in time will spell disaster for the already battered citizens of the area.
"If farmers do not harvest now they will face immense hardship in the next year," Boro said. "The chief minister must stay in Kokrajhar for two days. The Central government officials should spend some time here and interact with the local population. Unless the government gives an effort to understand the magnimity of the problem and stop politicising the issue will never be solved."