We were all sitting in our homes relaxed when a part of India was
burning. But then the flames started spreading in other parts of
the country, we woke up to the reality, northeast is a problematic
area of the country.
The Assam riots had begun as a clash between the natives and the
settlers in the lower Assam valley. It went on to become a clash
between natives and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Ultimately
it got blown out of proportion and took a communal turn between
the tribal and the Muslims.
As long as the battle between natives and the settlers or illegal
immigrants was going on, we relaxed and gulped the pulp feed on
24x7 news channels at our TV sets. However, when the problem
started sending heat waves across India, forcing the northeastern
people to flee back to their native places, we started blaming the
social media. The euphoria of Arab spring withered away, as we
suddenly started feeling the heat of social media and its
repercussions near us.
In this cacophony we left the main issue and the focus shifted to
those spreading the canard. We started demanding the rumor mongers
to justice. Without acting the devils advocate, and condemning the
rumor mills in strongest term, the entire Assam citizenship debate
needs to be put in perspective to understand the problem and think
about its solutions.
In 1970, when 90, 000 Bangladeshi refugees were sheltered in
India, purged by the Pakistani army, this became the prime reason
for going to war with Pakistan. Humanitarian reasons were cited as
ground for the liberation of Bangladesh. The country rejoiced at
the heroic victory over Pakistan and Indira Gandhi was hailed as
the liberator, a messiah of the Bengali speaking Muslims.
However, this created another problem that of illegal migrants to
India from Bangladesh. These were actually economic migrants who
moved on looking for living space and livelihood. They melted with
the earlier settlers and slowly their numbers started swelling.
It led to the agitation by All Assam Students Union. The agitation
was contained by the signing of the Assam accord and the formation
of the political party AGP. After coming to power, the AGP left
the problem in the lurch, and from time to time, it exploded like
a time bomb.
The origin of the problem of illegal settlers in Assam owes to the
creation of Bangladesh but there was no mechanism put in place to
solve this problem. It would be naïve to expect Bangladesh to take
back the illegal settlers. Blaming them would also no solve the
It was 90,000 Bengali refugees that warranted action from the
Indian state, now, when five lakh refugees are sheltering in Assam
camps, in one of India’s biggest internal exodus, no one is
talking about solving this niggling problem. How long will this
problem go on and how many more times Assam will burn again, no
one really knows.
What appears that like many other problems facing the northeast,
India is not serious about solving this problem as well? Instead
of giving a serious thought to address such issues, India seems to
be running away from them?
The problem of Nagaland is a classic case. Even six decades India
still has not been able to address this issue. Fifteen years of
deadly silence the peace talks between Nagaland negotiators and
government’s interlocutors has yielded no tangible results.
Same is the case of Manipur where the tactical divide and rule
game has put a lid on the twin issue; the liberation movement and
the Naga population living in the Manipur areas demanding greater
As long as guns remain silent at whatever price, every thing seems
to be fine but the question is how long can we hold on issues like
The problem of Bodoland too falls in the same category. Bodo’s
were demanding an independent state of Bodoland since March 2,
1987. The armed struggle which they waged for the fulfillment of
their demand made the government to yield to the creation of
autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in 2003.
However, it gave birth to another problem that is the current
issue of debate, the native verses settlers. The Bodos are only 29
per cent of the population but were given the powers for
development and other matters in the BTC. This was disliked by the
69 percent non-Bodo people. This includes Bengali speaking Muslims
who are settled in those areas from a long time. The non-Bodo
people feel deprived and are opposed the formation of the BTC.
The Bodos, on the other hand, want to increase their number in
their area to become a majority and justify the creation of BTC.
They have taken up the issue of native verses settlers and through
violent methods want to cleanse the Bengali speaking Muslims whom
they dub as illegal settlers from Bangladesh. The creation of the
BTC thus has created enormous tension in that area. It instead of
solving the problem has complicated it much further.
The recent conflict in Assam has a much wider connotation for the
entire country. At its bottom lay the complex problem of “Assam’s
citizenship" issue. A permanent solution based on economic
consideration can only ease the tension on the ground. This has to
be done in an amicable manner so that no party feels aggrieved. If
we do not like such acts of violence to reoccur we have to look
for long term peace and stability in Assam.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org