Violence against Muslims in Assam: A grave failure of the state

Muslims say Bengali-speaking Indian citizens are being targeted by Bodo groups and the BJP is stoking tensions over the issue.

Violence against Muslims in Assam: A grave failure of the state

Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami

Dozens of Bengali-speaking Muslims were killed in Assam this month in attacks by the local tribal militants.

The organized violence, unleashed by a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), a terrorist group in the country's Northeast region, has targeted Muslim villagers, mostly women and children.

Members of the outlawed NDFB are found involved in brutally killing Muslims in Assam's Bodo-dominated districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri at a time when the Muslims are facing horrific violence in neighbouring Myanmar.

The Indian government is reported to have deployed the army to control the ongoing violence. The blatant failure of intelligence in taking preventive measures after anticipating the recurrence of such violence in the same region of the state speaks volumes of the government’s complicity with the perpetrators.

Assam, the 14th largest state of India with a population of 31 million, has a history of violent unrest between Bodo tribal groups and Muslims over the lands and resources.

Ethnic clashes in 2012 had killed 80 people, most of them having been Muslims, and displaced more than 400,000 people, prompting the government to block websites, censor social media, and ban mass mobile-phone texting to check the spread of rumours behind the violence.

The latest attacks involved about 40 Bodo militants firing AK-47 rifles, media reports said. At least 35 houses belonging to Muslims were set ablaze near Manas National Park, a famous wildlife sanctuary, according to Assam police.

The most serious incident of violence in Assam was the 1983 Nellie massacre when over 2,500 people were killed in a rampage by the All Assam Students Union (AASU), following the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's decision to hold elections in the state despite AASU’s  opposition. AASU's foremost demand was that electoral rolls be cleansed of what it had alleged illegal immigrants.

This month's unrest in the state comes in the midst of India's parliamentary polls in which the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has again raised the old bogey of alleged illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam.

The BJP's hardline prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who is blamed for the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat, has accused Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi's Congress-led government of being soft on "immigrants."

Modi says if he comes to power he will ensure "immigrants" from Bangladesh "have their bags packed."

Muslims say Bengali-speaking Indian citizens are being targeted by Bodo groups and the BJP is stoking tensions over the issue.

People living in the Bodoland region belong to various ethnic minorities, including Bengali Muslims, Assamese Muslims, Santhals, and Rajvanshis, who have also been trickling in from north Bengal.

But most of those targeted in the latest violence have been Bengali-speaking Muslims. This signifies the dangerous element of Bodo politics where the BJP is fanning Bodo sentiments for electoral gains.
"The objective of this group seems to be aimed at starting a full-fledged communal conflagration," India's Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde remarked.

He has appealed to leaders of both the Bodo and Muslim communities to help maintain law and order  and peace.

Assam's additional director general of police A.P. Raut, in his comments published in the Times of India, said: "This is not an ethnic clash but planned killings by National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) with the support from some locals." The militant outfit has issued a statement denying involvement in the killings.

Some experts of the Northeast region believe that the present round of assault on Bengali-speaking Muslims might be retaliation for a government crackdown on the rebels since January this year that killed 18 militants and led 45 more to surrender.

The Times of India newspaper reported that the recent massacre may have been sparked by speculation that the victims' community voted for a non-Bodo candidate in the national elections.

"And like in Myanmar, so in Assam, local tribal passion aggravated by sectarian political groups, runs high against these Bangla speaking Muslims. They are demonized and held responsible for all the woes faced by the indigenous peoples," says Samir Das, an author who has written on Assam, observes.
"They are seen as encroachers on indigenous lands and resources."

However, Rohingya Muslims say they are indigenous inhabitants of Myanmar’s Rakhine province (previously Arakan), but many Burmese, believe that they are settlers from what is now the Chittagong region of Bangladesh.

The Muslims of Bengali origin in Assam admit they originally hail from what was East Bengal and is now Bangladesh. Local Assamese and tribal groups, however, allege that illegal migration from Bangladesh continues.

People from what is now Bangladesh migrated towards India largely during and after the India-backed liberation war against Pakistan in 1971.

They have been moving into Assam or other parts of northeast India since the days of the British Raj. 
The gruesome killing of innocent women and children in Assam cannot be defended on any pretext, and the government cannot escape from its constitutional obligations under any political, ethnic, linguistics or migration- related excuses, which have so far remained its prime preoccupation.

Ironically, the burning problem of recurring violence against the Bengali-speaking Muslims in this remote hamlet of North Eastern India appears not to have received the kind of attention from the State as well as the central governments as it should have in the sole interest of the Nation and its diverse social fabrics.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 04 Haziran 2014, 16:35

Muhammed Öylek