Tribal Terrain: Limitation and Efficacy of Laws in BTAD Area

Tribal Terrain: Limitation and Efficacy of Laws in BTAD Area

The July 2012 clashes between the indigenous Bodos and the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in lower Assam, including the three districts of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), is just a quick reminder of a fight lands and economic resources in tribal belts and blocks. Over the past decades, many of such clashes particularly in tribal areas have occurred unabated, displacing a large numbers of indigenous and tribal people across the state. Chronically, the clash between the Bodos and the Muslim immigrants first took place in 1952, but then, the Bodos were only a part of a larger battle between the Hindus and Muslims when several Muslims wanted to join parts of Assam, mainly in Goalpara district. However, the scars of the hatred of the conflict only deepened over time due to lack of willingness on the part of the government to put an to encroachment of tribal belts and blocks. After the formation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC), the clash occurred in Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon between 1993 and 1994 – leaving at least 60,000 people homeless from both the communities. Again, 2, 62, 682 were dislocated during the May 1996 conflict between the Bodos and Adivasis in Bongaigaon district. Even in September 1998, clashes between Bodos and Advivasis in Bongaigaon district saw over 3, 14,342 people languished in relief camps. Similarly, over 1, 94,000 people were displaced during conflict between Bodos and Muslims migrants in Udalguri and Darrang districts in October 2008. The July 2012 clash in Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Chirang, Bongaigaon and Baksa, which left thousands of indigenous people homeless, is another dark chapter in tribal history. Needless to say that the most backward Bodo tribals, who have been denied of dignity of living for decades, are being stripped off their lands by the illegal migrants, once again.

The root cause of this unabated infiltrations and recurring clashes lies in the forceful encroachment of lands and inefficacy of the government laws and policies to protect the tribal belts and blocks. Officially, there are as many as 47 Tribal Belts and Blocks in Assam, covering an area of 12, 528, 320 bighas but nowhere they have been preserved by the enforcement agencies of the state government till date. What worries the tribal communities in the State is that about 60 per cent in 47 tribal belts and block in the state had been encroached illegally by the migrant populations. ‘Sixty per cent of over 1 crore and 88 lakh bighas of tribal land have been illegally occupied by the non-tribals who are mostly the Bangladeshi nationals’ (n.a., 2012). As of now, about 70 per cent tribal families have become practically landless, whereas, 90 per cent of tribal people depend on agriculture in Assam. According to 2001 census report over 15 lakh non-tribals have encroached these tribal areas leaving the tribal communities alienated of their lands, pushing them to migrate to new lands. Thus, land became a contested terrain of struggle leading to various forms of conflict repeatedly. However, there seems to be no sustainable long-term solution to address the grievances of the Bodos and other indigenous communities who have been seeking protection of their lands for decades. Yet, the state government has done too little to protect the interests of the tribal people. In fact, the successive state government has been shedding crocodile tears whenever the ethnic clash erupts in tribal areas.

Historical perspective

Contest over tribal land and subsequent displacement of indigenous populations has its colonial legacy. The pressure of land belonging to the Bodos increased with the incursion of peasants from East Bengal during the British Rule of India, after the annexation of Assam in 1826. Amalendu Guha (1977) in his Planter-Raj to Swaraj notes that the British were responsible for the land alienation of the Bodos. “A liberal wasteland settlement policy of the British Government had tempted planters to grab more land than need (Banerjee, 2011:46). Immigrations had taken place in Assam during this period from two different directions. British tea planters brought in tea garden labourers in large numbers from mainland India. For the Adivasi labourers coming to Assam from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal; this arrangement was an extra incentive. British planters brought in Adivasis; in search of cheap labour, as they could be easily exploited. They used this extra land to settle Adivasis who had been brought in to work in tea gardens as tenants. Simultaneously, they brought educated and English knowing Bengalese to assist them in its administration.

After partition of Bengal in 1905, the geo-political peasantry from the over populated East Bengal to sparsely populated fertile lands of Brahmaputra and Surma valleys of this isolated Northeast corner of India. “The formation of All India Muslim League (AIML) in 1906 at Dhaka also hatched a political conspiracy to expand its numerical strength in Assam and initiated organised migration of Muslims from East Bengal (Assam Portal, 2012). In fact, at the concluding session of the League, Nawab Salim Ullah Khan, a prominent Muslim leader, who was also, a founder member of the League exhorted the Muslims to migrate to Assam and settle there. The alarming forecast of Census Superintendent C.S Mullan in his Census of 1931 validated the political conspiracy of AIML in Assam: “Probably the most important even in the province during the last 25 years – an event, moreover, which seems likely to alter permanently the whole feature of Assam and to destroy the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilisation has been the invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry immigrants most Muslims, from the districts of East Bengal” (Singh, 1990: 59).

By late 1930s, the AIML accelerated its expansionist design into confrontationist Muslim politics in Assam. Since then, the immigrants have become a chronic problem in the provincial politics of the state. After 1937 election, Gopi Nath Bordoloi headed a Congress led coalition government in Assam and tried to stop the unhindered influx from East Bengal (now Bangladesh). However, his Government had to resign in November 1939 to respond to the Congress High Command’s call for resignation of all its Provincial Government in protest against the War policy of the British. His resignation facilitated the formation of an alternative Coalition government headed by Sir Saadullah of AIML. Ironically, in attempt to protect tribal land, the Tribal League had an agreement with the Muslim League in 1939 wherein the latter agreed to accept the tribal demand for the line system. However, Muslim League leader Saadullah who became the Chief Minister of Assam with the support of the Tribal League not only miserably failed to fulfil his commitment but also brought large number of Muslim migrants to settle in Bodo areas (Banerjee, 2011:52). “During the period between 1939-1941, Saadullah allocated one Lakh bighas of land of in Assam valley for the settlement of East Bengali immigrants (Bhuyan and De, 1992:262). In 1942, the Saadullah government opened up grazing reserves settlement by immigrants under a “grow more food campaign,” thus allowing the floodgates of Muslim immigrants and thus leaving the tribals unprotected in the state. “He ignored the protest of Assam Congress leaders like Bishnuram Medhi and others on the plea that the Muslims from Bengal to Assam was necessary for the success of ‘Grow more food’ scheme in the state’ (Banerjee, 2011).

The then Viceroy, Lord Wavel, in the Viceroy’s Journal published on 22 December 1943 said: “…The chief political problem is the desire of Muslims Ministers of Assam to increase the immigrations into uncultivated Government lands in Assam under the slogan of ‘Grow more food’ but what really is to ‘Grow more Muslims’ (Singh, 1990: 70). ‘Obliviously, the resignation of the Congress led government in Assam was the first historical blunder committed by the party in respect of its policy on Muslim immigration. Even Subas Chandra Bose and the Congress leaders of Assam had argued for exemption of Assam from the decision of the party on the plea that it would help the AIML in settling the Muslim immigrants in the State. The Congress High Command was however not convinced (Assam Portal, n.d.). The Tribal League had to change the side and made another breakthrough in 1946 when it concluded an agreement with the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee and succeeded in getting certain provision of Chapter-X of Assam Land and Revenue Regulation Act 1886 amended. It was in 1946, after the general election, Bordoloi again headed the Congress government and took a firm stand for eviction of immigrants. However, alarmed with eviction plan of Bordoloi Government, AIML Legislators’ Convention held at Delhi in April 1946, demanded inclusion of Assam in Pakistan and strongly opposed the eviction plan of immigrant Muslims. ‘Abdul Hamid Khan, popularly known as Maulana Bhasani, a volatile leader, who had dominated Muslim politics in Assam till partition was deputed to execute the AIML plan to turn the non-Muslim majority state of Assam into majority state. Meanwhile, Muhammad Ali Jinnah came up with the demand of the League for inclusion of Assam in the proposed Pakistan. However, even after the independence from the British Rule, the flow of illegal migrants from East Pakistan did not stop in absence of any population planning by its government or any social movement for creating awareness to control population. They continue to migrate into Assam for living space leading to encroachment of lands and demographic change in Assam.

Lacunae of Tribal belts and blocks

As early as in 1947, the tribal Belts and Blocks were formed through an amendment the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation Act, 1886 to give protection to the backward tribal communities from the encroachment by non-tribals. The idea of protecting the tribal lands by creating tribal belts and blocks was noble. Nevertheless, the state government did not enforce the act in its letter and spirit. As a result, large-scale land alienation continued unabated under the successive governments. The Act has more limitations than the purpose it severs. Barnerjee argues (2011) argued that ‘the so called protective measures of Tribal Belts and Blocks provided in the Chapter X of Assam Land Revenue Regulation which is practically a farce Act have not been protected at all for the interests of the tribals. All the tribal villages and areas also hae not been covered by the Tribal Belts and Blocks.’ The lacuna of the Assam Act XV Act of 1947 is that the word “tribal” was omitted from the title of Chapter X. This indicates if the amendments were not really meant to benefit the tribals or had a much larger target group to accommodate in tribal areas. In fact, clause 160 (1) of the act, which is a part of Chapter X, does not lay down in so many words that the protection is meant only for tribals. In addition, the next clause, Clause 160 (2), empowered the state government to take a decision on which classes of people would get the benefit of protection thus leaving elbowroom to the government bureaucracy. It Clause says, “The government may by notification in the official gazette specify the classes of people whom it considers entitled to protection by such measures as aforesaid.” Further, Section 161 of the Act provided for constitution of compact areas for the notified classes of people. It can thus be presumed that the lawmakers, instead of laying down clearly that the belts and blocks were left it to the discretion of the government to decide on this. This left a leeway for the government machineries to bend rules whenever it is necessary.

This Act empowers the Deputy Commissioners to take major decisions. It clearly says, “The settlement of land under these rules will only be on written application to be made to the Deputy Commissioner or the officer empowered on his behalf (Clause 3 of the Rules). Though section 164 (2) of the act laid down that no land holder shall transfer his land in belt and block to (a) any person not belonging to a class of people mentioned under section 160 (b) to any person who is not a permanent resident in the belt and block, section 164 (2) (b)also laid down that “Provided that no such land holder shall transfer his land in a belt and block to a person who is a permanent resident of that belt or block who does not belong to a class of people notified under section 160 except with the previous of the Deputy Commissioner”. This clearly empower transfer of land to a person belonging to classes not listed under the regulations, tribals or backward classes, but a permanent resident of the belt and block. Further, under section 171 (Clause 2) of Chapter X of the Regulation, cultivators, namely plains tribals, hill tribals, tea garden labourers, Santhals, Nepal cultivators-graziers and schedule castes also protected. Thus, these communities were also competing with the plains tribals, especially the Bodos in the tribal belts and blocks for lands and resources. Interestingly, despite having such loopholes in the Act, atleast 33 tribal belts and blocks were identified in the then five undivided districts- Goalpara, Kamrup, Darrang, Lakhimpur and Nowgong. In the subsequent years, some more tribal blocks were constituted in other districts, but yet to be implemented, as a result the unabated alienation of tribal lands continued. Lands were carved out of tribal belts and blocks to accommodate refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan, despite severe protest by the Plains Tribal Council of Assam.

Land rights under the Bodo Accords: 1993 & 2003

The Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) formed in 2003 merely gave executive powers to the General Council on the subject of Land and Land Revenue. Obviously, the BAC was a non-starter from the very inception. Naturally, neither it prevents the alienation of tribal land, nor could it address the development needs of areas inhabited by the Bodos. This was another denial on the part of the state government ignore the demand for protection of the interests of the Bodo tribals. The memorandum of Settlement that had been signed prior to the formation of BAC, had in Clause 7, a “Special Provision for the BAC area” that stated: The General Council shall be consulted and its views shall be given due regard before any law made on the following subjects is implemented in the BAC are: i) the religious or social practices of the Bodos, ii) the Bodos customary laws and procedures; and iii) the ownership and transfer of land within the BAC area (Banerjee, 2011: 52). Thus, the BAC was given merely a advisory role in framing of laws regarding land, it had no statutory role. This provision of the Memorandum of Settlement was not incorporated in the BAC Act, thus making it only a statement of intent of the Assam Government.

Likewise, the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), created in 2003 under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, following a peace accord signed by the Government of India, the Assam Government and the Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT), came with rider in the context of land rights of the Bodos. The Act, do not guarantee exclusive land rights of the Bodos in conformity with other Sixth Schedule areas, where sale or transfer of tribals lands to non-tribals is strictly prohibited and protected. Under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2003, paragraph 3B, section (1) subsection (xv), the BTC was empowered to make laws with respect to the land revenue within its area. However, the additional powers given to the BTC over land under the sixth schedule had one condition: the loophole is that the power to BTC was given with a prospective effect, not with a retrospective effect. Non-tribals, provided they are Indian citizens, will continue to enjoy the right over their lands. Thus, by virtue of the provision under the act, BTC can only prevent fresh occupations of tribal lands by non-tribals, but cannot undo what has happened in the past. Fresh transfers of lands are also allowed provided they are permissible. It is alleged that a large number of people have entered the present BTC area between 1993 and 2003, occupied lands, and changed the demographic profile.

The provision of the BTC Act allows that at the commencement of the act, people who have been residing in the BTC area would continue to enjoy their right over land, thus legalising the stay of large number of immigrants. The amended act laid down as: (a) Extinguish or modify the existing right and privileges of any citizen in respective of his land at the date of commencement of this act, and (b) Disallow any citizen from acquiring land either by way of inheritance, allotment or by any other way of transfer if such citizen is otherwise eligible for such acquisition of land within the Bodoland Territorial Area District. Obviously, by virtue of the provisions under the act, BTC is in a position to prevent fresh occupations of tribal land by non-tribals, but cannot undo or evict those who have already settle before the act came into existence. However, fresh transfer also allowed, provided they are permissible. The loopholes in the legal provisions yet allow the non-tribals people to acquire land rights contrary to the existing laws of the country the promise to safeguard the tribal people’s land rights. (Burman, 2010, ICITP, Northeast Zone, 2007)

The way forward

The British had enacted Chotanagpur Tenancy Act in 1908 to protect the land rights of the Adivasis, but Assam has failed to do even in the 21st century. The BAC experiment had failed due to inherent shortcomings. The much-glorified BTC Accord is yet another failure. Neither it enjoys any financial powers nor has exclusive power to protect tribal belts and blocks from further encroachment by non-tribal communities. The loopholes in the systems will further alienate the tribals and the migrant populations will continue to occupy new tribal areas in absence of power. The BTC accord requires a “revisit” if it is to serve any purpose for the marginalised the Bodo people. The present BTC administration, apart from rewarding sectional political interests, does not guarantee progressive Bodo society. The Bodos leaders, including the signatories of the accords, instead of swimming in the euphoria of the peace accord must re-examine whether to seek for protection of land rights or to continue run a dysfunctional administration. If not, the danger of lands being encroached by non-tribals and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants is likely create more troubles in the BTAD areas. The quick demographic change will come with a bundle of trouble sooner than later. It is time for the Bodo leaders to do their real homework before the next conflict rocks the tribal belts and blocks. Utmost efforts should be made to jointly fight for a common cause to save ourselves from extinction. Ironically, the Bodos are yet to learn from the failure of the two peace accords.

References:

  • Assam Portal. 2012. How Bangladeshi Muslim wiped out in their own land. Retrieved 10 August 2012, from http://www.assam.org/news/how-bangladeshi-muslim-wiped-assames-out-their-own-land.
  • Banerjee, Nirmalaya. 2011. Tribal Land Alienation and Ethnic Conflict: Efficacy of Laws and Policies in BTAD Area. In. Refugee Watch, 37. June
  • Bhuyan, A.C and De, Shibopada. 1999. (Ed). Political History of Assam. Vol. VIII.  Guwahati: Publication Board of Assam.
  • Burman, JJ Roy, 2010. The Bodoland Ethnic Conflict. In. Sonowal, CJ. 2010. Quest for Identity, Autonomy and Development. New Delhi: Akansha.
  • Guha, Amalendu. 1977. Planter-Raj to Swaraj. New Delhi: ICHR
  • 2007. Boro Position Paper. Contours of Conflict Pathways of Peace, Guwahati.
  • Seven Sisters Post. 2012. Riots a play to push in migrants to BTAD: NDFB. Seven Sisters Post. August 3. Retrieved from 6 September 2012, fromhttp://sevensisterspost.com/epaper/2763620408/
  • Singh, Manju. 1990. Politics of Migration. Jaipur: Anita Publications. Pp. 59, 70
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Future Imperfect of the Bodos

hiracharanar01

Future Imperfect of the Bodos

Hira Charan Narjinari

The July-August 2012 violence between the indigenous Bodos and Bengali Muslims in BTC area has created a nation-wide sensation. As usual opinions are divided among people as to who was the aggressor. Some politicians said that the Bodos are to blame for the flare-up between the Bodos and Muslims. Columnists have produced numerous stories on the flare-up and sought to trace its genesis. Some have pointed to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants as the root cause for sporadic clashes that take place in the state of Assam, while others stated that the cause for recent flare-up lies in the desire of the Bodos to make up the shortfall in percentage of Bodo population which is becoming hindrance to justify the demand for Bodoland State. Yet still others say that the very formation of BTC giving it constitutional safeguard under cover of Sixth Schedule meant for the Hills was undemocratic. This category of contenders should note that there is no such reference as hills or plains in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. Article 244(2) plainly and distinctly states thus: “The provisions of the Sixth Schedule shall apply to the administration of the tribal areas in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.” So where is the problem?

Assam was the land of Kirats or Mlechhas and the land was known to the ancient people as Kiratdesh or Mlechhadesh. The religion of ancient Assam was also of Kirat or Mlechha origin. Who were these Kirats or Mlechhas? Research studies have revealed that they were the ancestors of the modern Bodos. Assam had been the target of many outsiders like the Aryans, the Shans and the Muslims. Among the invaders, the Shans established a powerful kingdom known as Ahom Kingdom. The Shans under Sukapa with a number of commanders and 1080 soldiers occupied first the Moran (a cognate tribe of Bodo)country and gradually became the master of Upper Assam. The Muslims began to expand their hegemony to Assam and establish Islamic Kingdom but failed to achieve any permanent influence on Assam and soon had to leave the country.

In 1826, the British had annexed Assam to their dominion after the expulsion of the Burmese. There were numerous small ethnic kingdoms in the Brahmaputra Valley and in the intervening hills which the British government had also gradually brought into their own fold and administered the region as a single unit called Assam. Within 20 to 25 years of Indian independence in 1947 this single unit was broken up into several separate regions whereby the states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh came into being. This was a great blow to the Assamese nationalism. One writer belonging to Assamese community said that no caste or tribe can claim Assam as their own homeland. As the writer is aware that his ancestors did not originate in Assam so he does not want that others should lay claim to Assam as their homeland. Of course, the only race that deserves every right to call Assam as their homeland is the Bodo race. Testimonies to this are abundant in the pages of history.

It was during the British regime that Assam witnessed another great invasion of land-hungry Bengali Muslims from Mymensingh. The British had developed tea in Assam and the tea gardens were manned with outsiders. So the stream of movements of people from outside Assam converted Assam into a place of outsiders or foreigners, marginalizing the indigenous people of Assam.

G.T. Lloyd, Superintendent of Census Operations Assam in 1921 had beautifully stated that Assam as the ‘Promised Land’ for the Bengali Muslims. He wrote, “The news of the promised land has spread to other districts besides Mymensingh, the colonists are filling up the reverain tracts of the four lower districts of the valley and spreading inland from the Brahmaputra.” J.H. Hutton in 1931 foresaw that the Muslim cultivators from Mymensingh district in Bengal planned to change the whole nature, language and religion of the Brahmputra Valley in the course of 20 or 30 years and to assimilate it to the Muslim area of Sylhet where the population was not Assamese but essentially Bengali, whether Muslim or Hindu.” Influx of Mymensinghias into the Brahmaputra valley was of such enormity that C.S. Mullan, Census Superintendent commented in Census of India 1931 in the following words. “Wherever the caracase, there will the vultures be gathered together – Where there is waste land thither flock the Mymensinghias. In fact the way in which they have seized upon the vacant areas in the Assam Valley seems almost uncanny. Without fuss, without tumult, without undue trouble to the district revenue staffs, a population which must amount to over half a million has transplanted itself from Bengal to the Assam Valley during the last twenty-five years. It looks like a marvel of administrative organization on the part of Government but it is nothing of the sort; the only thing I can compare it to as the mass movement of a large body of ants.”

The Election Commissioner Harishankar Brahma squarely attributes the recent ethnic clash to illegal immigration into Assam. He also thinks that land-grabbing and encroachment also contributed to differences between the indigenous people and non-indigenous communities. He writes, “The systematic grabbing of government lands and the steady encroachment of denuded forest areas by illegal immigrants and non-indigenous communities have created serious differences among the local indigenous populations”.

However, as the Muslim population of Assam was increasing extraordinarily due principally to the continued influx of Mymensinghia immigrants, the Assamese Hindus felt that this would be detrimental to the Hindu hegemony. The Hindu Sabha of Assam being uncomfortable with the situation, managed to win over thousands of primitive tribes in the Brahmaputra Valley through their propaganda thereby making a large increment in the Hindu population in 1931. Speaking about the Bodos of Goalpara in 1931 Rup Nath Brahma stated, “The Bodos had a separate society of their own and never allowed their tribal peculiarities to be merged into the Hindu society. They do not recognize Brahmanical supremacy though many of them have been gradually converted to Hinduism.”

Muslims in Assam are not happy with the formation of BTC, neither other communities like Assamese, Koch-Rajbansis, Adivasis and the like. They contend that granting of autonomous council to the Bodos who only constitute 27% is prejudicial to the interests of the non-Bodos. Immigrations legal or illegal had taken place during the last century and this has been accepted by many and by the governments. That tribal land alienation had taken place has also been acknowledged officially. Still there are people who blame the Bodos for their armed uprising to carve out a homeland for themselves. They probably think that they possess by dint of their early advancement in civilization every right to dispossess the rights of the tribal people from preserving their language, culture, religion and social fabrics, guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

The Bodos are no longer a primitive tribe; they have already passed through that stage and been transformed into a civilized community. Do you expect that they would still remain subservient to the dictate of the people whose origin is not traced to Assam but to outside Assam? You should not expect that to happen. It is absolutely natural for any human society that has made advancement in civilization to mould and develop its homogeneous society into a strong nationality and raise their standard of living and thinking. It is this aspiration that the Bodos today demand for a separate state. What is wrong in it? Why should you find fault with the Bodos when they voice for a homeland living in their own homeland? Who deprived them? It will be quite reasonable to state that outsiders or foreigners or ancient colonizers who became the majority in the land are responsible for the reduction of the Bodos to the position of stateless nation. But things have changed with modern education among the Bodos. You may suppress the uncivilized community for a century or so, but you cannot suppress the civilized society. Today or tomorrow this society will assert itself to have self-government for overall development economically, culturally, socially and politically. It is because of the fact that the Bodos have today become conscious of their identity and civilization that they intend to exhume their lost glory.

Today intellectuals, people with vested interests and non-Bodo columnists decry the armed uprisings of the Bodos for achieving their goal for a separate state. However, our memory is so short that we forget the armed uprising of Subhas Chandra Bose against the British rule. We refer to Nelie massacre of 1983 while we forget the Noakhali genocide of 1946 when there took place a series of massacres, rapes, abductions and forced conversions of Hindus and looting and arson of Hindu properties, perpetrated by the Muslim community in the districts of Noakhali and Tripura in the Chittagong Division of Bengal. People have forgotten the Great Calcutta Killing on 16th August 1946. The then Viceroy of India Lord Wavell in his Journal wrote, “On 16 August, which the Muslim League had directed to celebrate as ‘Direct Action Day’ and which the Muslim League Government of Bengal unwisely declared a Public Holiday, there was a appalling outbreak of communal rioting in Calcutta that lasted several days. According to official estimates 5,000 people were killed and 15,000 injured.” People of Assam have forgotten the Bardoa carnage perpetrated by the followers of Sankardev. While Sankardev was still alive his followers by a stratagem massacred almost all the Kachari (Mech) people of Bardoa except two or four who managed to escape. Sankardev even after having come to know the inhuman act of violence did not reprimand his followers, instead he simply said, “Kāmto bhāl nakarilā.”(Bipin Bordoloi, Sankarguri Āmārei, pp.93-4).

Muslim politicians and leaders of several Muslim organizations have alleged that the Bodos are out to change the demography of BTAD with an intention to achieve above 50% Bodo population in order to justify the demand for statehood and this is possible only then when non-Bodos are ousted from the area by cleansing them. Do you believe this story? Many say that the Bodos are terrorists, extortionists, militants and what not, but those who do so forget that in their society too this phenomenon does exist. People are very quick to react to current incidents without giving any serious thought to the lessons from the human history.

Respecting the recent flare-up in BTC area there is a general tendency to portray that it all happened in order to make the Bodo population 50% in the BTC area so that formation of Bodoland state can be justified. Debabrata Sharma, the chief advisor of the leftist United Revolutionary Movement Council of Assam says, “Nothing could be more undemocratic and discriminatory (than the creation of the BTAD-BTC). Democracy is all about majority rule. BTAD-BTC is just the reverse of that principle. How can 20 per cent rule over 80 per cent? Because the Bodos do not enjoy numerical majority, they are resorting to ethnic cleansing, targeting Muslims, Adivasis, Rajbanshis and even Assamese caste Hindus. The Bodos have become a law unto themselves. We stand for the dissolution of BTAD and BTC and stop the rape of democracy. Bodos comprise a little over six per cent of the state’s population but are demanding 50 per cent of Assam for the Bodoland of their dreams. Muslims comprise over 30 per cent of Assam’s population. Yet they have so far displayed exemplary patience despite grave provocations. What will happen if Muslims and other victimized communities unite and retaliate?”(http://www.outlookindia.com/articles.aspx?282078). Dr. Sharma’s rhetoric may soothe the people for whom he is advocating so emphatically, but at the same time his desire to reach out to the voiceless through Ekalavya movement throws many doubts on his philosophy of life. (http://www.tehelka.com/story_main38.asp?filename=cr260408full_quiver.asp). The same voice was raised by Dhubri MP Maulana Badruddin Ajmal. Asaduddin Owaisi, Hyderabad MP also followed suit. CPI(M) MP Basudeb Achariya said, “Now, the intention behind creating this problem is to increase the percentage of Bodo population from 27 per cent to 50 per cent so that the demand for separate State cane be strengthened.” The lone Bodo MP Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary rightly placed the BTC problem before the House and stated that as the BTC does not have power over Police the law and order situation could not be contained instantly. Therefore he appealed to the Government of India “to take appropriate steps, to help create the much long awaited separate State of Bodoland so as to help and protect the safety and security for the overall development of the Bodo people and other peace-loving people in the region.”

The most unfortunate thing is this that the Muslims had deliberately ignored to accept the government findings that in the incidents that happened between 6th July and 19th July the Bodos were not at all involved. Killing of two Muslims on 6th July was perpetrated by the KLO terrorists and it was communicated to the Muslim people but they did not accept the story. Hon Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde confirmed this on 8th August 2012 during the Lok Sabha debate. Indiscriminate firing on 19th July thereby injuring two Muslims has been believed by the local people that the happening was probably due to fallout on business matter. Despite non-involvement of the Bodos the Muslims threw a challenge towards the Bodos by butchering four innocent Bodo youths in front of the police team. It was obviously natural for the Bodos to retaliate. Bloods of both the Bodos and Muslims gushed out in many places in the BTC area.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) after visiting relief camps submitted its report to the Prime Minister. The report states “It was emphasized that some political dialogue with Bodos and Shri Hagrama Mahilary, Chief Executive of the BTAD was absolutely essential. The Bodos need to be told firmly that they cannot under any circumstances engineer a mass exodus of non-Bodos. Nor would they ever get statehood this way.” How a statutory body like the NCM blames that the Bodos had engineered a forcible mass exodus of non-Bodos (I think the NCM refers to the immigrant Muslims)? The NCM reported that if security for the Muslims is not ensured they will become militants in the future. The apprehension of the NCM that Muslims might become militant if their security was not ensured is a kind of incoherent rhetoric. Can the NCM assure that Muslims will not become militant if they are given security? Ib fact, militant Muslim outfit like United National Army has already announced their intention for creating an independent Muslimland for Muslims living in north-east India. Does the NCM think that they are “poorly armed”? Muslim Militant groups in Northeast India have a common goal of greater independence for Muslims in the region. Their tactics include armed attack, extortion, kidnapping, manufacturing and smuggling of illegal weapons and explosives, and sale of illegal drugs. (Sunni Militancy in India: An Analytical Atlas, prepared by Katherine Hoffmann, Jiro Kodera, Peter Le Francois Charles Nicas, Jackson Reed, March 18, 2011).

The most tantalizing is the comparison of arms owned by both the Bodos and Muslims made by the NCM. Hear, what the NCM Report says on this count: “The conflict was unequal because the Bodos had left over arms from the BLT (AK-47 etc.,). The Muslims are very poorly armed in comparison, there can be grave danger in future in case militant jihadi outfits from the rest of the country start supplying lethal weapons in this area.” The study conducted by Katherine Hoffmann and others as mentioned above proves that militant Muslims are already supplying weapons and explosives to north-east particularly Assam. What perturbs me is that this statement is pointing to the Bodos as the aggressor. The NCM perhaps without any homework made this kind of statement. They should have made thorough research work before uttering such prejudiced remark.

Muslims constitute the second largest religious group in India and thus the largest religious minority. As per the 2001 Census total population of Muslims in India was 138,188,240 out of which 71,374,134 were male and 66,814,106 were female; and in Assam the total Muslim population was 8,240,611 out of which 4,252,691 were male and 3,987,920 were female. On the other hand, the total Bodo population was only a little over 13 lakhs. Bodos are minority both in terms of number and religion but according to the mandate of NCM they do not come under the purview of NCM. Because as per the Central Government Notification SO No. 818(E), F.No.1/11/93-MC(1) dated 23.10.1993, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Zoroastrians (Parsis) are the only “Minority Communities” which was notified in exercise of the powers conferred by Clause (c) of Section 2 of the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 (19 of 1992). We may therefore suppose that the chief intention of the visit of riot-affected areas of BTC by the NCM was to assess only the plight of the Minority Community called the Muslims and not the Bodos.

Now the question is: who are the Minorities? Is the ‘Dominant Muslim Community’ whose rank is second in India in terms of population enumerated at more than 138 million? The irony is that 138 million Muslims are recognized as Minority while 13 lakhs Bodos are not. The Constitution of India employs the word ‘minority’. But Articles 29 and 30 in the margin have the word ‘minorities.’ Article 29 states, “Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own” while Article 30 speaks of two categories of minorities – religious and linguistic. It states thus: “All minorities, whether based on religion or language.” Articles 350A and 350B relate to linguistic minorities only. In the above Articles the word ‘minority’ has not been defined. Now the Bodos are minority both in terms of religion and language. Yet, the Bodos do not come under the purview of the Central Government Notification as per the NCM Act, 1992 as mentioned above.

However, the Constitution of India provides a special provision for the tribal people. Article 338A (1) states, “There shall be a Commission for the Scheduled Tribes to be known as the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes.” The main aim of this Commission for Scheduled Tribes is to develop the socio-economic status of the backward classes of STs in all parts of India. Article 338A, Section 5, sub-sections (a) and (b) of the Constitution of India provide safeguards to STs on certain matters. Sub-section (a) states “to investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Tribes under this Constitution or under any other law for the time being in force or under any order of the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards; and (b) “to inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes.” The National Commission for Scheduled Tribe has the mandate to protect and promote the rights of the Scheduled Tribes of India. If that be so then the Bodos as Tribes of BTC are deserve to be protected from any kind of aggression by taking appropriate measures. In the case of current flare-up the NCST is still silent. What is the utility of the Commission if it is non-operational in the time of misfortune on the part of the tribal and this time of the Bodo tribe?

The Government of India also provides further constitutional protection by enacting an Act called “The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (No. 33 of 1989).” Clause 3 (1) Section (iv) states that “whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe wrongfully occupies or cultivates any land owned by, or allotted to, or notified by any competent authority to be allotted to, a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe or gets the land allotted to him transferred;” Section (v) wrongfully dispossesses a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe from his land or premises or interferes with the enjoyment of his rights over any land, premises or water; shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and with fine..” But these proviso were not implemented in letter and spirit as a result of which frequent clashes took place between the indigenous Bodos and non-Bodos particularly Bengali Muslims whom the Bodos consider to be encroachers on their land – public or private.

The British Government realized as far back as 1886 that unless some protective measure is ensured the indigenous tribal people might lose their land to outsiders. Hence they introduced” Assam Land Revenue Regulation Act 1886” where in Chapter X certain provisions were provided for the “Protection of Backward Classes”. Rules framed under Section 171 of Chapter X of the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation for disposal of land within the Tribal Belts or Blocks, Clause 2 distinctly states that “Cultivators pertaining to the following classes, namely plain tribals, hill tribals, tea garden tribals, Santhals, Nepali cultivators-graziers and Scheduled Caste have since been notified as persons entitled to protection, vide Notification No. RD69/46/19 dated the 5th December 1947.” But this Act also failed to protect the land of the Bodos and other tribes in the BTC area.

Though the Constitution of India guarantees protection to tribal people yet the recent flare-up in BTC area seems to have made less impact on the various statutory bodies to take a strong measure to sort out the problem of tribal belt and block.

The crucial point for the Bodos to take note of seriously is this that there should not be any divide when it comes to the question of existence of Bodo race. There should be only and only one voice not only at the time of Bodo national misfortune but also at any time. A divided house cannot stand out against any kind of aggression. Take for instance the recent race-riot between the Bodos and the Muslims. What we saw is that as soon as the news of clash spread, the Muslims had immediately showed their solidarity in the name of religion, and organized protest rallies condemning the act of violence on the Bengali Muslims, perpetrated as they say by the Bodos, and caused to flee thousands of NE people.

A piece of music called “Benw jwngni jwnwmphuri, Himaloy hajwni ser ser fwilao wnswla, benw jwngni jwnwmphuri” composed by Daorao Dekreb Narzary is a unique piece of patriotic song. The composer is directly driving us home to realize our glorious past history and asking us to foster a deep-rooted adoration for our homeland which we have inherited from our forefathers who were the masters of the region now called Assam. We must remember that external forces are at work to stall the aspirations of the Bodos. To fight out these forces we should come together and establish a strong fraternity and solidarity for the sake of the race. The Bodos have marched a long way to reach to having a territorial council, yet there is still a long way before them to tread to see their dreams fulfilled. But disunity will cause the dreams a future imperfect.

Caught in the Crossfire of Blame: The Bodos and the BTC Issue

hiracharanar01

Caught in the Crossfire of Blame: The Bodos and the BTC Issue
Hira Charan Narjinari

The conflict between the Bodos and immigrant Muslims during July-August 2012 has completed almost one year now. Those were the days when common people from both communities had suffered greatly. Since the immigrant Muslims failed in their desire to possess a plot of land illegally for an Idgah due to strong resistance by the BTC administration, there was a simmering grudge among the immigrant Muslims against the Bodos. That they wanted to teach the Bodos a great lesson is clear from the disclosure by one of the accused persons in his deposition. The final touch of hate-Bodo programme was activated on 20 July 2012 when four innocent Bodo youths were brutally assaulted that resulted in their death on the spot. In this regard Gauri Singh, TSI of Kokrajhar Police Station filed a complaint (ijhar) and a case FIR 212/2012 was registered under 341, 147, 149, 302 and 435 IPC on 20th July 2012.

Right from the formation of Bodoland Autonomous Council in 1993, non-Bodos living within the boundaries of the Council have been vehemently opposing conferment of any geo-political power on the Bodos. Subsequently, the Bodoland Accord of 2003 gave the Bodos more power as Territorial Council created under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India. The non-Bodos within the BTC area were unhappy with the creation of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and were envious of the geo-political hegemony of the Bodos which naturally drove them to be intolerant towards the Bodos Therefore, they have been constantly waiting for an opportunity to destabilise the BTC administration. Hindrance to build Idgah gave the Muslims an opportunity to rise against the Bodos and hatched a plot to take revenge against the Bodos and the 20th July 2012 incident was the culmination of Muslim intolerance towards the Bodos.

From day one of the conflicts, Muslims started alleging against the Bodos for ethnic cleansing. Not only the Muslims but also the Hindus became vocal against the Bodos. The tenor of some of the pundits belonging to non-Bodo communities in evaluating, analyzing, and criticizing the Bodo Accord of 2003 clearly point to a direction that empowering of the “uncouth, low-profile” Bodo people with political hegemony was a blunder on the part of the NDA Government. They perhaps never dreamt of that the Kirat-Mongloid Bodos will one day exercise their political power on the Indo-Aryan people living in the predominantly Mongoloid country of Assam. They were not even happy to see that Assam should be dissected and states like Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh should have been created. They considered Assam as their paternal Jagir over which they think they had absolute authority and Mongoloid people do not deserve capabilities to rule or exercise supreme power over them. But the irony is that the modern descendants of those Jagirdars fail to remember that all the Jagirlands enjoyed by their forefathers were free gifts from the Bodo kings only. Bodo king Bhaskarvarman granted large amount of land to as many as 119 Brahmanas of different gotras during his reign in the first half of the 7th century A.D.[1] Ancient political history of Assam is stuffed with scores of such testimonies on this verity.

The most vocal person to demand scrapping of Bodoland Territorial Council was a Bengali-speaking Dhubri M.P. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal who is also the Chief of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). He directly accused the Bodo MLAs and Chief of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Hagrama Mahilary, for inciting the Bodos against the Muslim inhabitants in BTC area. He demanded arrest of the Chief of BTC and scrapping of the Memorandum of Settlement of the Bodo Accord as he thinks that the MOS was meant only for the interest of the Bodos and not for others. He also urged Sri Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, to dissolve the Bodoland Territorial Council and place it under Governor’s rule.

Yet another MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi during the Lok Sabha Debate on 8th August 2012 emphatically warned the Central government and members of Parliament that if Muslims (Bangladeshi illegal migrants) are not rehabilitated, India will face third wave of radicalization amongst Muslim youths. Let Mr. Owaisi speak here: “Lastly, I warn the Central Government; I warn the hon. Members over here….if proper rehabilitation does not take place, you be ready for a third wave of radicalization of Muslim youth…” The tenor of warning here clearly absolutely and conclusively indicates to his utter disregard towards the very strong pillar of democracy and it concerns a grave threat to the security of the whole of India. He also demanded dissolution of BTC as it failed according to him to protect people living there and scrapping of Bodoland Agreement and failure to do so separation of those areas where 50% is non-Bodos. By demanding separation of those areas where 50% is non-Bodos (Muslim dominated?) Shri Owaisi has sent message to the Indian Parliament that Muslims in Assam should be given a geo-political power (a Muslim State?).

Interestingly, neither BJP nor Congress nor other regional political parties had uttered a single word of reprimand for Mr. Owaisi’s communal overtone. They all yielded to the Hindu virtue of tolerance. R.K. Ohri, IPS (Retd.) has rightly estimated the moral fibre of the post-independence political leadership for their too reliance on the Hindu virtue of tolerance. He says, “The post-independence political leadership of India has for the most part remained a prisoner of the creed of meek submission to senseless aggression and violence by wearing the great Hindu virtue of tolerance on its sleeves. No one can dispute that tolerance is a great quality, a good civilizational value system but only up to a point and within responsible limits. Beyond that limit, any tolerance of tyranny and aggression becomes a liability, a curse.”[2]

Asghar Ali Engineer, another columnist, has analyzed that the cause of clashes lies in “creating of BODOLAND TERRITORIAL COUNCIL in an area where Bodos are only 29 per cent and rest are non-Bodos including Bengali speaking Muslims settled there since the British period and the British had brought them for cultivation of jute more than 100 years ago.” He asks, “How can one create Bodo Territorial Council and give them powers for development and other matters when they are just 29 per cent. All non-Bodo people feel aggrieved and want the Council to be repealed. They feel they are not getting due share in development. The Bodos, on the other hand, want to increase their number in that area so that they become the majority and creation of Bodo Territorial Council could be justified.”[3]

In a Press Conference on 4th August 2012 All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union Vice-President Sahabuddin Ali Ahmed said, “The BTAD administration is behind the recent flare-up of violence in the BTAD.” He further said, “Clearly the people who are in a hurry to form a separate Bodoland State are behind these clashes.”[4]

Some members of Indian religionists also did not lag behind in joining chorus with the so-called religious minority. Everywhere they made fuss over the creation of BTC for the Bodos. What makes them envy of the Bodos while they have been conferred the geo-political power under the Constitution of India? Will scrapping of BTC bring peace in Lower Assam? Will the Bodos without any resistance make over their rights to be trampled over? I am afraid, the more the Bodos will be harassed the more there will be tensions in the area.

Spiteful utterances on the Bodos by Dr. Devabrata Sharma, a lecturer of Jorhat College make one believe that his philosophy of love for dalit and opposition to caste oppression on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is nothing but a political gimmick only. He is the chief advisor of a leftist organization called United Revolutionary Movement Council of Assam (URMCA). He terms the creation of BTAD as undemocratic and discriminatory. An intellectual person like Dr Sharma should have been more cautious to bridle his tongue when he said: “Nothing could be more undemocratic and discriminatory than the creation of the BTAD-BTC. Democracy is all about majority rule. BTAD-BTC is just the reverse of that principle. How can 20 per cent rule over 80 per cent? Because the Bodos do not enjoy numerical majority, they are resorting to ethnic cleansing, targeting Muslims, Adivasis, Rajbanshis and even Assamese caste Hindus. The Bodos have become a law unto themselves. We stand for the dissolution of BTAD and BTC to stop the rape of democracy. Bodos comprise a little over six per cent of the state’s population but are demanding 50 per cent of Assam for the Bodoland of their dreams. Muslims comprise over 30 per cent of Assam’s population. Yet they have so far displayed exemplary patience despite grave provocations. What will happen if Muslims and other victimized communities unite and retaliate?”[5]

Isn’t this statement provocative and full of venom against the oldest inhabitants of Assam? Dr. Sharma is probably well aware of the fact that his forefathers were migrants from the west. The statement that the Bodos have become a law unto themselves makes no sense if we consider the way the immigrant Bengali Muslims encroached government lands. Why is he silent on illegal encroachment by the Muslims? It seems that he does not consider illegal encroachment as illegal but to him the immigrant Muslims have every right to encroach government lands, forest lands, or any vacant space falling under tribal belts and blocks; and the Assam Land Revenue Act or any law of the land does not apply to them. His comment will encourage the Muslims to be bolder to defy not only the administration of BTC but also the government of Assam.

An experienced CPI (M) M.P. Basudev Acharia appears to conceive that there is not a single illegal Bengali Muslims in the State of Assam. According to him all the sufferers owing to the clash are all Indian and not illegal Bangladeshi migrants. To this effect he has given good character certificates in favour of the Muslims in the Lok Sabha Debate on 8th August 2012 which has been recorded thus: “I visited the areas inhabited by the Muslim minorities in Kokrajhar District and its neighbouring areas like Bongaigaon, Chirang, Dhubri and Bilasipara. Should we call them Bangladeshi immigrants? They are the people who are staying there since 1940-41. In 1953 Brahmaputra got eroded. Villages after villages had got eroded. The Muslim population migrated from that area to Kokrajhar. Should we call them Bangladeshi immigrants and try to drive them away? They are the citizens of our country. They are there for years together.”[6] He puts the blame on the Bodos for engineering the conflict between the Bodos and Bengali Muslims. He commented saying, “the intention behind creating this problem is to increase the percentage of Bodo population from 27 per cent to 50 per cent so that the demand for separate state can be strengthened.”[7]

Behind such clean-chit there is a smell of garnering of votes for political ends at the expense of the national security. T.V. Rajeswar, former Governor of West Bengal and Sikkim commented that vote-bank politics turned a blind eye to the Bangladeshi migrants both in Assam and West Bengal “because of the support it was getting from the minority-migrant population.”[8] He further commented that when the Congress was in power in Assam and when the AGP replaced it the ministry’s survival depended upon the support of a group of MLAs who were against any serious action against the Bangladeshi migrants.

Praful Bidwai, a former newspaper editor and now a researcher and Peace and Human-Rights Activist based in Delhi, writes that the Bodos drove the Muslims out forcibly in 1992, 1996 and 2010 but they failed in 2012. This is obviously an inflammatory comment and a derogatory statement pointing his finger towards the Bodos exclusively. He thinks that when the Bodos form only 20% and do not enjoy social-economic hegemony, creation of BTAD as homelands for tribals in western Assam was the Indian government’s misguided policy.[9]

Columnists Ratnadip Choudhury and Avalok Langer said that “the seeds of the current conflagration were sown in the 2003 BTC Accord.”[10] These columnists also appear to have allergy to see the Bodos prosper in their own ways.

A former Naxalite leader, Santosh Rana has called the BTC area as a “killing field” and urged both the Central Government and State of Assam to “dissolve the BTC and evolve a solution on the basis of equality of all identities.”[11] Naxal movement was an armed uprising to snatch lands from the jotedars and redistribute land to the landless farmers. It is well known that their history is replete with bloodshed. He might have eschewed the path of violence now, but his rhetoric is an anti-tribal and condemnable.

Dr. Nani Gopal Mahanta an associate professor of political science at Gauhati University has discovered that “the very creation of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) under the 6th Schedule” is the origin of the July-August 2012 violence. He further stated that “BTC was born out of merciless killing and violence at the behest of the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT).”[12] In another article he,[13] having analyzed the recent violence in BTC area, states that as it is absolutely necessary for making the Bodos majority in their area so they are evicting people of other communities from Bodo areas in order to make a ‘homogenous Bodoland’.

Theses by non-Bodo intellectuals as referred to above have been proved baseless. The investigation by the CBI on the incident of 20th July 2012 which had sparked violence in the BTC area has unearthed a different story totally contrary to their views. The CBI has found “larger conspiracy” behind the killing of four Bodo youths.

The Assam Government had ordered CBI enquiry into the incident that took place on 20th July 2012 in which four Bodo youths were brutally hackled to death. By a notification No.PLA 432/2012/Pt./20 dated 9th August 2012, the Government of Assam extended the powers and jurisdiction of members of Special Police Establishment (CBI) to whole of Assam. The Government of India, Ministry of Personnel by a notification No.228/45/2012/AVD-II dated 10th August 2012 transferred the investigation of FIR No.212/2012 dated 20th July 2012 of Kokrajhar PS under section 341, 147, 148, 149, 302 and 435 IPC to CBI for investigation. Accordingly the CBI re-registered the Case RC 10(S)2012/CBI/SC-1/New Delhi on 10th August 2012 and began investigating into the incident of 20th July 2012.

Investigation by CBI discloses that on 20 July 2012 at about 8 pm Adam Ali Sheik who has been named as accused No. 2 in the Charge Sheet, and other villagers of Joypur were present in the Joypur Bazaar and they heard the sound of firing. He along with other unknown persons started raising the slogan of Allah Ho Akbar continuously for about five to seven minutes and the same was followed by the other villagers and persons present in the bazaar. Thereafter people from the Joypur, Namapara and Dangipara gathered in the Joypur bazaar. About 300 people gathered as it was first day of Roza and most of the people were already present in the nearby two mosques for prayers.

CBI investigation discloses that at about 8.50 pm four Bodo youths namely Pradip Boro, Zwngsar Boro, Jatin Goyary and Nipon Goyary reached Joypur bazaar from Bhatipara side. Adam Ali Sheik pointed his finger towards them saying that they were the same persons who had fired in the area earlier at about 8 pm. The crowd intercepted all the four Bodo youths and started thrashing them in presence of Assam Police officials. How come Adam Ali Sheikh was so certain that those four Bodo youths were the same persons who had fired in the air? It is obvious that the ABMSU had already taken decision that they would attack any Bodo passing Joypur area. The story of firing also appears to be a design to put their decision into action. It is not believable that those four Bodo youths would pass through Joypur if they had earlier at 8 pm fired in the area. As a rule they were supposed to take different route to reach Kokrajhar town instead they returned via Joupur. This leads us to presume that those four Bodo youths were not involved in firing in the air in that area and they had fallen victims of circumstances.

CBI has distinctly recorded that “they heard the sound of firing” only. Can this be taken to mean that Adam Ali Sheikh personally saw those four Bodo youths firing in the air? Hearing does not connote seeing, they mean differently. From this it is clear that the fanatic Muslims had already decided to start a communal riot in the BTC area. And the CBI had rightly sensed a “larger conspiracy” behind the killings of four Bodo youths.

CBI investigation reveals that after the incident when the dead bodies were lying on the ground, Kurban Ali, accused number 1 in the Charge-Sheet had removed the cellphone of the deceased Nipon Goyary. He had admitted the same in his disclosure statement and stated that he had used the hand-set from 29th to 31st July 2012 with his own SIM card of his personal connection No. 9954986373. The CDR analysis has confirmed that SIM card of the said mobile number was used in the hand-set of deceased Nipon Goyary. It is also revealed that Hashim Ali Rahman accused number 3 in the Charge-Sheet had used the stolen mobile phone number 9859941471 of the deceased Pradip Boro from 21st to 29th July 2012 to contact his close family members.

The accused persons namely Adam Ali Sheikh, Accused No. 2, Hashim Ali Rahman, Accused No. 3, Imran Hussain, Accused No. 4, Hashem Ali Sheikh, Accused No. 5, Ali Azam Sheikh, Accused No. 6 and Moinul Sheikh, Accused No. 8 had been properly and correctly identified by the witnesses during the investigation Test Identification Parade (TIP) conducted by the Court of Special Magistrate CBI Guwahati at Central Jail Guwahati on 29th September 2012.

“During the investigation sufficient evidence, oral as well as documentary evidence has come on record against accused persons namely Md. Kurban Ali Sheikh(A1), Adom Ali Sheikh (A2), Hashim Ali Rahman (A3), Imran Hussain (A4), Hashem Ali Sheikh (A5), Ali Azam Sheikh (A6) and Moinul Sheikh (A8) to prove that they alongwith other members of the unlawful assembly committed the offences punishable under section 147, 148, 149, 302, 341, 379, 435 & 201 IPC. Besides the accused Kurban Ali Sheikh (A1) and Hashim Ali Rahman (A3) are also liable to be prosecuted for the substantive offences u/s 379 and 201 IPC.”

Paradoxically, the All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union (ABMSU) is however not happy with the probe conducted by the CBI. ABMSU President Sahabuddin Ali Ahmed said, “We have serious doubts in the credibility of CBI as it has been proved that they work in the favour of the ruling government in the recent past.” He demanded a high level probe into the 2012 riots in BTC area. Supposing high level probe is ordered by the government and the high level probe committee also goes against the ABMSU activists will they still insist upon further probe?

It may be pertinent here to refer to the sentiments of the Assamese members of the Constituent Assembly about the tribal people of the then Assam. They openly expressed in the Constituent Assembly that the tribal people should not be given much autonomy through the Sixth Schedule. During the debate on 6 September 1949, Kuladhar Chaliha, member of Constituent Assembly, had strongly opposed to giving too much autonomy to the Hills Tribes. He went so far as to state that allowing tribal people to rule or run administration will be an injustice to non-tribals (Assamese). The same view was expressed by Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri. These civilised persons from Assam never wanted Tribal people to rule over them rather they wanted to dominate the tribal people perpetually. The same sentiment still prevails among many caste Assamese for whom rule by the Bodos is something unthinkable. They, however, forget the fact that their forefathers were the subjects of Bodo kings for centuries.

Interestingly, people today question the very creation of BTC in the strongest terms and allege as to how a minority community in the BTC area should enjoy such geo-political power depriving majority non-Bodos. However, they do not question how they became minority; they do not question how tribal lands were alienated; they do not question why despite protective measures envisaged in the Assam Land Revenue Act 1886 amended from time to time was not implemented in letter and spirit; they do not question why infiltration is still allowed to take place; they do not question why land within tribal belts and blocks should be settled with non-tribal people; they do not question why lands belonging to government are forcibly occupied by non-tribal people, mostly immigrant Bengali Muslims. Why these questions have not been put before the central and state governments by those who strongly spoke against the Bodo Accord of 2003?

Have they ever asked or studied how the Bodos have become minority in their own land? Occupying the land of the Bodos by stratagem the outsiders or foreigners drove them to the environs of the woods where they languished for generations. Today, the original inhabitants i.e., the Bodos have been outnumbered by outsiders be they Bengali Muslims (legal or illegal) or be they Indo-Aryan speakers. In their own homeland the Bodos are today uprooted. Modern civilization has opened up the eyes of the Bodos and their constant search for their antecedents made them re-assertive in claiming back their certain tracts for developing and safeguarding their own culture and language. This aspiration is guaranteed by the Constitution of India. What is wrong then if the Bodos are given a geo-political power within the framework of the Indian Constitution?

The Charge Sheet relating to the 20 July 2012 incident has now come to light and it has been established that behind the violent riots that had spread in the BTC area and Dhubri after killing of four Bodo youths, the ABMSU was solely responsible. Now where are those persons who were vocal in blaming the Bodos for starting the violence? Why are they now silent on the involvement of ABMSU in starting the violence? Let them now come forward demanding banning of ABMSU and write scores of articles condemning the sinister designs of immigrant Muslims. Will they do that?

Many intellectuals have alleged that the Bodos are out to make BTC area exclusively for themselves and that is why they are resorting to cleansing of other ethnic groups. Can this happen in a democratic set-up? They very often cite the carnage of 2008 at Udalguri without ascertaining as to how the incident had started. Incidents that took place at Rowta-Bhalukmari-Hatkhola in Udalguri district on 14.8. 2008 during the bandh called by the Muslim Students Union of Assam (MUSA) and subsequent clashes between the Bodos and Muslims have been termed by many as ethnic cleansing by the Bodos. That their allegation is utterly groundless can be testified by what Justice P.C.Phukan former Judge, Gauhati High Court submitted his findings on 15th February 2010 concerning the incidents. Let Justice Phukan speak here: “MUSA officer-bearers and MUSA activists are squarely responsible for starting the violence by forcing the shop-keepers to close their shops and beating up those who refused to oblige and forcing the scooter/motor-cycle riders, cyclist etc to stay off the road and beating up those who resisted such use of force. If such shop-keepers, motor-cycle riders, Cyclists etc, while resisting use of force by the MUSA activists, struck them back in exercise of their right to private defence of persons and property, they cannot be said to be on the wrong side of the law.”

Demanding scrapping of constitutionally created BTC certainly culminates into dishonouring the very sanctity of the Constitution of India and at the same time an intolerance shown towards the original inhabitants or the sons of the soil. Critics of the creation of BTC are perhaps not alive to the fact that the Bodos had ruled Kamrup (ancient Assam) for more than twelve hundred years while the Ahoms ruled only for six hundred years. They have not perhaps realized that any adverse criticism against the Bodos may one day become a boomerang for them. In this regard Dr. Prafulla Mahanta has rightly said that demanding dissolution of BTC means a bad omen for the entire people of Assam.[14] Now if the Bodos are universally blamed for acts they did not commit then should others expect them to remain patriotic?

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[1] Epigraphia Indica, Vol. XIX, pp. 115-125.
[2] R.K. Ohri, IPS (Retd.), Long March of Islam the Future Imperfect, 2004, p.327.
[3] http://twocircles.nt/2012jul30/bodomuslim_clashes_reasons_and_analysis.html.
[4] The Sentinel, 5 August 2012.
[5] Cited in S.N.M. Abdi’s ‘The 50-50 Shot’, http://www.outlookinida.com/article.aspx?282078.
[6] Lok Sabha Debate on 8th August 2012.
[7] Lok Sabha Debate on 8th August 2012
[8] T.V. Rajeswar, Problem of Bangladeshi migrants Politico-economic study in historical context, The Tribune, Online Edition, February 17, 2003 available at http://www.tribuneindia.com/2003/20030217/edit.htm#3
[9] Praful Bidwai, Ethnic Conflict in India, http://www.thenews.com.pk/todays-news-9-128487-ethnic-conflict-in-india.
[10] Tehelka, Vol. 9, Issue 33, 18 August 2012
[11] Santosh Rana, ‘Bodoland: The Killing Field’, Frontier, Vol. 45, No. 13, October 7-13, 2012
[12] Nani G. Mahanta, A Kashmir in the Making, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/nani-g.-mahanta-on-recent-ethnic-violience-in-assam-bodoland/1/221691.html
[13] Dr. Nani Gopal Mahanta, ‘Ashanta Borobhumi:Niti Jetia Hingsar Karak Hoy’ Amar Asom, 26&27 July 2012
[14] Dr. Prafulla Mahanta, ‘Sangharsa-jarjar Borobhumi Aru Boro Tatha Janajatir Surakshar Prasna’, in Bodoland, a monthly Bi-lingual Journal of Bodo Peoples’ Front, Vol. I, Issue – 6, December 2012, pp. 6-10