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Bodo violence: Contest for power and territory



On May 1 and 2, 2014, the Bodo Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) were afflicted by ethnic violence when 41 bodies were discovered in Baska and Kokrajhar districts. Non Bodos, including migrant Muslims, who constitute the majority, allege that their failure to vote for the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) candidate Chandan Brahma in the recent Lok Sabha elections resulted in the fatal retaliation. This has been linked to remarks by BPF leader, Pramila Rani Brahma, who had commented on April 30 that the Muslim migrants had not voted for Chandan Brahma.

Muslims have propped up their own independent candidate, Naba Kumar Sarania alias Hira Sarania, a former United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) rebel in Kokrajhar. This seat has always been represented by a Bodo parliamentarian.

The Assam government suspects the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) to be behind the attacks though the latter has denied any involvement. The state government is thinking of arming Bengali-speaking Muslims in Bodo areas for self-defense.

Changing Demography and Escalating Tensions

The genesis of this strife can be traced back to as early as 1978 when in a Lok Sabha by-election around 45,000 illegal migrants’ names were found on the voter’s list in Mangaldoi, Darrang district. That was a covert move by the Assam state to legalize migrants with voting rights at par with bona fide citizens of India clearly implicating the government, driven by seditious vested interests versus delivering on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens. The failure of elected representatives to protect people’s land from illegal occupation was and is one of the primary reasons for overwhelming insecurity over land holdings.1

The first strike against this revelation was kick started in 1979 resulting in the massive All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led ‘Assam Agitation’ against illegal Bangladeshi migration from 1979 to 1985. During that agitation, violence against Muslim immigrants continued, with the 1983 Nellie massacre being the worst with over 2000 Muslim migrants massacred in a single day. Districts like Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Darrang, etc, had also witnessed violence during the Assam Agitation over illegal migration.

Notwithstanding all previous events in the decade from 2001 to 2011, as per census figures of 2011, there has been a sharp increase in Bengali speaking Muslim population. The four districts of the BTAD have had highest increases of Muslim versus Non-Muslim population growth (See Figure I). With ever escalating social tensions, in October 2008, violence over issues of land encroachments was sparked by the incident of alleged violence meted out to a Bodo youth, Rakesh Swargiary, by Muslim minority youth. The news of this attack spread like wildfire amongst the Bodo community resulting in widespread violence between the two communities.2 The Bodo community was already on the edge after two Bodo youths were killed in Rowta, Udalguri in August 2008 after they had refused to take part in a bandh called by the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU).

The next series of violence took place in 2012 after four Bodos were allegedly hacked to death in a Muslim dominated area in Kokrajhar district. The violence quickly spread to neighboring Dhubri district after a bandh was called by the AAMSU in the BTAD thereafter. Again in 2012 the underlying cause of this violence was the rising tensions between the Bodos and the immigrant Muslim communities over issues of land. Between 2007 and 2012, Muslim immigrants had migrated in large numbers from Dhubri to Kokrajhar district especially its Gosaigaon sub-division. This created enormous pressures on agriculture land, one of the vital means of livelihood for indigenous communities. In 2012, 11,066 Bengali speaking Muslim families in the BTAD had been verified as bona fide land-owners with legal documents to prove their ownership. The actual number of immigrant families far exceeded this number and were the bone of contention for the Bodo community.3

Legal and Administrative Remedies
The original Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act of 1983 to detect and deport foreigners in Assam was a non-starter, and consequently struck down by the Supreme Court. As Assam state and BTAD districts are faced with extraordinary circumstances with deadly consequences, law makers have to enact and enforce new laws for effective legal remedy.

But laws are useless if the executive drags its feet subservient to vested interests and political machinations. It is imperative that the government immigration agencies generate reliable verified data on the number of people coming in from Bangladesh into Assam. It is also the government’s constitutional obligation to maintain the veracity of electoral rolls listing only citizens with the right to vote. Any illegal schemes and ploys to include non-citizens can have grave security implications for the country and has to be treated as serious transgression of law.4

To rectify the damage already done, the administrative authorities have to implement modern technology and mechanisms to replace the current ambiguous and easily manipulated land records system. If citizens have the guarantees of their legal holdings being protected by law, that will go a long way in alleviating apprehensions of the most precious commodity i.e. land resources. All unauthorized voters who figure on the official records have to be disenfranchised to protect the sanctity of democratic practices. Finally, India will have to take steps under the laws of the country to identify and deport foreigners without authorized immigration documents. Considering the scale of the issue in Assam, India would need to have consultations with Bangladesh to rehabilitate these people in their country of origin. Moreover, given the fact that there is a market for unskilled labour from Bangladesh in Assam, work permits based on a stringent visa granting process should be established where processes are transparent with effective oversight.

Ironically, it is not identity per se that leads to conflict but when one ethnic identity grouping assumes power and territory by illegal means thereby relegating the original ethnic identity group to an inferior status in their own land, conflicts of this nature are bound to arise.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere .

Dr Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at IDSA She is a recipient of the Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Fellowship, 2012-2013.

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Army Foils Attack on J&K Air Force Station



An attempt by two-three militants to attack a Water Pump House outside Air Force Station at Awantipora in Pulwama District was foiled by alert guards on February 20.

“2-3 (militants) fired and lobbed a grenade at the Air Force Water Pump House Malangpora located outside Air Force Station Awantipora at around 1730 hours today [February 20]. The fire was effectively retaliated by alert sentries,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

“The (militants) fled. There is no loss of life or property (in the incident),” the spokesman said, adding searches have been launched to trace the attackers. “The search operation is underway,” the spokesman said.

A Police officer said that Army and Police cordoned off area but militants managed to escape. “No arrests were made so far,” the officer said.

Police and 55 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) of Army cordoned off Narbal village of Pulwama District after reports about the presence of militants in the village on February 20 evening.

As the Security Forces (SFs) laid the cordon, people of the village came out and pelted stones at the SFs who fired in the air to disperse them. They also fired tear smoke to disperse the protesters. The cordon was, however, on when last reports came in.

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Al Qaeda Claims the Killing of a Separatist Leader in Jammu and Kashmir



File Picture of Zakir Musa, the Head of Al Qaeda (India)

A week after two unidentified gunmen killed former militant commander and Kashmiri separatist leader, Mohammad Yusuf Rather, shooting him dead inside a passenger vehicle, the police are investigating claims made by al Qaeda’s Kashmir head, Zakir Musa, that the killing was carried out to warn Hurriyat parties against pursuing secularism.

Rather, who was associated with All Parties Hurriyat Conference-Geelani (APHC-G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani for the last 14 years, was killed by two gunmen on February 12, when he was travelling from Beerwah in Budgam to his house in the same district. Two pistol-wielding men who were sitting in the back seat of a vehicle fired at his head and later fled from the place.

League of India had reported the story here:

Later, Zakir Musa allegedly released an audio file claiming that he ordered his men to kill the Hurriyat leader. He also said that Kashmir’s battle will not be political but in order to establish the rule of Islam. In the audio clip, he is heard saying:

“These dishonest Hurriyat leaders don’t understand. If they want to run their politics, they shouldn’t become a thorn in our way, or else we will chop off their heads and display them at Lal Chowk. This is why we had to kill Mohammad Yusuf Rather.”

In the same audio clip, Musa further added:

“Our Kashmir’s battle is for ensuring glorification of Islam and we will establish the Shariah system of Islam. My appeal to all who want to enforce religion is that it should be followed first by oneself. We should become dear to Allah and tie the rope of the Almighty with strength and not repose faith on anyone else.”

Zakir Musa is the head of al Qaeda affiliate Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, and the fresh audio release came a few months after he had accused Pakistan of ‘back-stabbing militants’, following US’ attack on Afghanistan.

In his previous audio message, he had said that even as foreign militants were fighting in Kashmir, the Pakistani government got militants killed, and even closed the training camps.

However, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Central Kashmir Range, Ghulam Hassan Bhat, said that a case has been registered after Rather’s killing, and they are looking into the audio clip as well. “We are also going through call records of the deceased, and have questioned the driver in whose vehicle Rather was heading home,” Bhat said.

According to Police officials, two pistol-wielding persons were sitting in the back seat of a vehicle on February 12. At around 4.40 pm, they fired at Rather, killing him immediately. The police then handed over his body to Rather’s family members, after which a case was registered.

APHC-G spokesman Gulam Ahmad Gulzar said that as the general secretary of the separatist outfit Tehreke Wahadati Islami, Rather was associated with the Geelani-led faction since 2004. He said that he was the deputy chief commander of the now non-existent militant outfit Hizb-ul-Momineen in the early 1990s before he joined the separatist conglomerate. “He was an important Hurriyat (G) leader and a member of our executive council,” he said.

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A Day After the Killing of a NCP Leader, IED found in Meghalaya



Security Forces (SFs) on February 20 recovered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) at Nengmandalgre in East Garo Hills. Police suspect Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) to be behind the incident, in an attempt to sabotage the ensuing election in the state.

Earlier on February 18, a National Congress Party (NCP) leader was killed with three others in East Garo Hills in an IED explosion.

The Meghalaya Police suspect GNLA ‘chief’ Sohan D Shira to be behind the February 18 IED blast in East Garo Hills District.

Separately, Police Observer for West Garo Hills District along with General Observer reviewed the law and order situation in East Garo Hills on February 20. The Police observer stated that they were in touch with Border Security Forces with regard to the movement of militants in border areas. Moreover, the election candidates and their agents have placed their request for additional security while highlighting few sensitive polling stations in their respective constituencies.

East Garo Hills Police Superintendent of Police (SP) stated that ‘We are strongly suspect the involvement of the GNLA chief behind this IED blast since we had carried out an operation on Monday (February 19) night after receiving inputs that Sohan was a village’. However, the militant escaped following which operations have been intensified in the whole area.

Moreover, Meghalaya Director General of Police (DGP) stated that evidence to the killing of the NCP candidate points to the role of the GNLA outfit and said credible leads are being obtained.

While clearly indicating the role of GNLA, DGP also voiced concern over the presence of surrendered rebels in the company of the slain politician. He also added that they were seeking more Paramilitary Forces from the Government of India.

In addition, DGP also added that standard security procedures were allegedly not followed by the NCP candidate leading to the attack. The NCP candidate is said to have informed district authorities about his election campaign meetings for a few select villages in Samanda block. But, he reportedly overstepped his area of the political campaign by going deeper into the remote region where previous militant activities have taken place.

DGP also added that ‘It is a known fact that GNLA ‘commander-in-chief’ Sohan Shira has been targeting former members of his group who surrendered to authorities. Last year’s killing of their surrendered finance secretary Rakkam Shira and former ‘action commander’ Kamdat are examples of the outfit’s intention’.

Also, threatening posters against the NCP candidate who was killed on February 19 were found in Chimagre, Nengkhra Darimgre, Damagre, Chisobibra and Samanda Dolwagre in East Garo Hills District.

Similar posters were visible even prior to the 2013 Assembly polls in parts of Williamnagar and the role of the suspected GNLA outfit was pointed out then by the deceased candidate. According to sources, the militants, though less in number had better human intelligence network compared to police as far as the incident in Williamnagar is concerned.

Moreover, the Police and election authorities’ machinery had not expected such a violent incident since militancy was on the downslide in Garo Hills.

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