Peace still seems a far cry among Assam’s warring tribes. Life in the North Cachar Hills has been seriously disrupted for months now because of the violent ethnic clashes between militants from the Dimasa and Hmar tribes. The worst carnage took place in April when about 23 Dimasas were brutally killed by Hmar militants. Since then, each has been routinely killing members of the other and burning down villages. This has not only spread terror in and around the Cachar district, but resulted in thousands of Dimasas and Hmars being displaced from their gutted down villages, to take shelter in about 25 relief centres. The area has been intermittently under curfew, and this had led to a severe scarcity of essential food items because of the disruption in supplies and the people’s inability to go to or set up the market in the midst of all the violence. But an accord of sorts was signed last week between the presidents of the Hmar Inpi and the Dimasa Zadike, overseen by representatives of the state government and following the visit of a cabinet fact-finding team. The Assam government had also sanctioned Rs 67 lakh for the rehabilitation of the displaced Dimasas and Hmars.
But a series of further killings and arson on either side of the tribal divide has now botched this attempted accord. The breakdown of trust will obviously need a longer, tougher and more careful tending than has been put in so far by either the state or the Centre. The Dimasas are the majority in the area, and their earlier ceasefire agreement with the Centre — made in January and repeatedly broken, like most ceasefires in the Northeast — had therefore made the minority Hmars insecure. The Dimasas seemed to have the implicit support of the state’s political establishment, particularly after a resolution to rename the North Cachar Hills as Dima Halali — or so says the Centre, implicatng its political opponents in the state. The situation is further complicated by the Kukis, the presence of outlawed Naga insurgents in the area, and hostilities involving the Karbis. The broken accord does not bode well for the state government, its peace-keeping forces and the hapless inhabitants of the North Cachar Hills.