Assam lynching: Senseless violence not new to Karbi Anglong; it's been singed by insurgency and riots for nearly two decades

The fast-paced sequence of events leading to the mob lynching of two youths at Karbi Anglong – Abhijeet Nath and Nilotpal Das –  in Assam reveal the layers of fear and suspicion embedded deep in the psyche of many sections of inhabitants in that region. Since the late 1990s, the hill district has been rocked by insurgency, riots and killings vitiating the ambience where a little incident or rumour becomes the trigger for large-scale violence.

Around 30 communities including tribals and non-tribals with a wide array of languages, cultures and religions inhabit Karbi Anglong and West Karbi Anglong, which is governed by an autonomous council under the Sixth Schedule. However, like most of the regions in the North East under such councils, the system has been unable to promote development to the desired level and avenues of employment while the influx of outsiders to the district has only led to the decrease of the tribal population in the district (from 74.59 percent in 1961 to 51.56 percent in 1991).

UPDS Cadres at a camp in Karbi Anlong. Image courtesy Rajeev Bhattacharyya

UPDS Cadres at a camp in Karbi Anlong. Image courtesy Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Not surprisingly, the existing circumstances compelled many youths to take recourse to the gun as a means of redressing their grievances. In 2005, there were at least seven militant outfits active in Karbi Anglong including groups from Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland. On many occasions, these competing outfits have clashed with each other fuelling distrust and hatred among the different communities. On many occasions, the immediate causes were used as a pretext to settle scores and manifest their disaffection.

Like on 24 March, 2004, suspected members of a rebel outfit dragged twenty-eight villages out of their homes at Woden Tisso village and shot them. Before that, on 18 October, 2005, twenty-three Karbi passengers were dragged out of a bus near Charchim and hacked by militants belonging to another community.

Borsing Rongfar, editor of Solangdo, who has researched on the riots in Karbi Anglong explained that the violence in the area has created a 'climate of insecurity' among the people. "There are political, social and economic reasons that have fuelled the unrest in this district and they have had an adverse impact on the mindset of the people. But all these could have been greatly reduced with the spread of education and growth of connectivity which are also lacking."

Cult of the gun

Like the Garo Hills of Meghalaya, the twin hill districts of Assam have witnessed the unique phenomenon of insurgent groups fizzling out after some years of fighting either due to surrenders or agreements with the government, but there were always others to continue the movement from the jungles.

In Karbi Anglong, the banner of armed revolt was raised in the mid-1990s by the Karbi People’s Front (KPF) and Karbi National Volunteers which merged in 1999 to form the United Peoples Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) with the aim of creating a separate state or homeland for the Karbis and an economic package for the region among other demands.

However, within a few years of the ceasefire agreement with the government, a disgruntled faction broke away to give birth to the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), which also colluded for some time with other banned groups. KNLNLF surrendered in 2010 and the UPDS' settlement with the Centre a year later provided for devolution of more powers to the autonomous district council and schemes for development of the district. However, by 2016, there were reports of two more rebel groups taking birth in Karbi Anglong and engaging in rampant extortion and killing of rhinos.

Factors like availability of weapons, funds and cadres which are necessary to sustain a rebel outfit are extant despite surrenders of and accords with militant organisations. Sometimes it becomes advantageous for bigger rebel outfits operating in distant regions to sustain smaller groups for a variety of reasons. In 2007, the KLNLF colluded with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to carry out attacks against Hindi-speaking people resulting in the death of eight persons in Karbi Anglong.

Series of riots

Different communities have been engaged in conflict in Karbi Anglong. Between 2003-07, there were four major clashes involving Karbis, Kukis, Khasi-Pnar, Dimasas, Adivasis (tea tribes) and Biharis. The first was between the Karbi and Kuki in 2003 which dragged almost until the next year.

Map of Karbi Anglong. Image source: Mapsofindia

Map of Karbi Anglong. Image source: Mapsofindia

The immediate cause was the ban imposed by UPDS on jhum cultivation in Singhason Khonbamon Hills on the grounds that it led to ecological damage and soil erosion. The Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) stepped in to protect the Kuki farmers who were also provoked to defy the ban. Both the rebel groups allegedly slaughtered people from both the communities which stopped only after the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) stepped in to broker a peace deal.

The most deadly conflict in all these years was sparked off on 26 September, 2005, after three Dimasa autorickshaw drivers were abducted and killed by unknown assailants. The killers could not be apprehended by the police but rumours contributed to widening the rift between the Karbis and Dimasas.

The Dima Halam Daogah (DHD), which had also signed a ceasefire with the government, allegedly attacked and torched Karbi villages with the UPDS retaliating whenever the opportunity arose. By November 2005, 90 persons had been killed from both the communities. According to an estimate, 219 people including children were killed in these conflicts and around 1.4 lakhs were displaced from their homes.

Apparently, taxes imposed by the rebel groups have been a potent cause of conflict in the district. Very often, the outfit steps into the areas inhabited by other communities and controlled by other groups. Being the dominant community in the district, the Karbi militants have opposed the presence of other outfits and their policy of extending their areas of influence. In early December 2005, police raided a designated camp of the Dimasa group (DHD) in the forests of Dhansiri following complaints by the UPDS that its cadres were flouting the ceasefire ground rules.


Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 12:52 PM

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