Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi visits Fakiranijhar Namasudra Para L.P. School relief camp in Bilasipara subdivision of Dhubri district on Monday. Picture by UB Photos
Kokrajhar/Dimapur, July 30: The bloodshed in the BTAD areas appears to be symptomatic of a larger malaise.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comments about now being the “time for healing” and the Rs 300 crore relief package may have soothed some nerves, but sparks are threatening to turn into bushfires beyond the Bodo belt.
The problem of illegal immigration from Bangladesh and the subsequent communal tensions is threatening to spread to other parts of Assam and even the neighbouring states.
While those from New Delhi see the lush green landscape and quiet highways, believing the trouble is over for now, there is simmering tension between the migrants and ethnic communities. However, there is reportedly no tension between other indigenous communities in the same areas.
Dipali Muchahary is one of some 200 Bodos now living at a relief camp in Kokrajhar. On the night of July 22, two days after trouble began, she and her three children fled from Takimari village out of fear.
Takimari is a hamlet of 50-odd houses, with mixed population of Bodos, Hindus and Muslims, located in Bilasipara sub-division of Dhubri district.
“When I went for shelter to the Nath families, they told us to go away lest the Muslims come looking for Bodos hiding in their houses,” she said. The other families continue to live at Takimari without trouble.
Lok Sabha MP and AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal has urged Singh to ensure Bodos and Muslims can return safely to their villages. He also asked the Centre to ensure peace among different ethnicities “within BTAD areas”.
On Friday, as the official numbers of riot-affected people swelled to over two lakh, a boat carrying a small group of families crossed the Brahmaputra to reach Goalpara.
As they reached Lakhipur village, about 12km from Goalpara, around a dozen Bodo families in the area realised tempers may rise and contacted police. A meeting of local community leaders was called and the situation was promptly defused by the police but it is only a temporary relief.
Another case in point is the rift between Rabhas and Muslims. In early 2011, Muslims who make up almost half of Goalpara district allied with Garos to oppose the Rabhas’ demand for Rabha Hajong Autonomous Council.
The trouble here is that Rabhas, who claim traditional land rights, perceive a threat from the rising minority population, many of whom have spilled over from the neighbouring Dhubri district.
Senior home ministry sources said pressure on land, especially in Dhubri is so high, that a spillover of tension into other areas was foreseen.
But when the home minister P. Chidambaram visits Kokrajhar on Monday, he is unlikely to burden himself with worries that are not of concern for the next few days. Later on, however, he may have to check problems not only in Goalpara but also in Nagaland.
Activist and editor of Nagaland Page Monalisa Changkija said the political class has allowed unchecked influx from Bangladesh since Independence for economic or political reasons.
“The political class has cleverly augmented its vote bank at the cost of indigenous people of the region,” she said and added that ethnic groups in the Northeast have always respected land holdings of other groups.
Naga Council a social organisation, held a meeting of its public action committee on illegal immigrants (PACII) recently in Dimapur and made a pledge to boycott all “Bangladeshis economically and socially”.
Members of the organisation will go around checking documents and also go by looks and language. The targets are likely to be those who speak the language from Sylhet or Mymensingh in Bangladesh.
Muslims in Assam are as diverse as they are elsewhere in India. Therefore, their looks and language differ from Sadiya to Karimganj and Goalpara to Barpeta.
Their roots also range from the mid-eighteenth century to entering through British orders in 1930s and later during partition and before and after the Bangladesh war.
So who is a Bangladeshi? As per the Assam Accord, those who entered the country after March 25, 1971 are not Indians. But that hardly seems to matter in these times of strife.
“We will issue verification cards on basis of their documents. Many have documents issued by the Assam government, panchayat members and village elders in Karimganj or Dhubri. We will have to go by looks to identify them,” said Joel Kath, convener of the organisation.
“No force will be used but people will not buy things from them,” he said.