The East Ablaze : India’s Dirty War in Assam


Assam, India, Bangladesh, Muslims, Communal, Violence,

On 25 Dec 2014, while Christians around the world celebrated Christmas and in Pakistan the nation celebrated a somber birth anniversary of its founder the Quaid-e-Azam, horror was unleashed in the easternmost province of India. According to reports, militants allegedly linked to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) attacked and killed at least 56 people triggering a sectarian war that displaced more than 7000 people and pushed the death toll above 70.

Violence unfortunately is not something new to Assam where insurgency and a struggle for independence have been waging since the 1970s, at times violent and also in a peaceful way. Historically, Assam has never been a part of India proper while attempts were made to assimilate it into the rest of India by different powers. The Mughals were briefly successful before relinquishing control in the face of guerilla warfare by the local populace. The British were finally able to assimilate Assam into their Empire after defeating the Burmese and concluding the Treaty of Yandabo .

After the partition of Pakistan and India, Assam was made a part of India by the British. Many question the partition boundaries drawn by the Radcliffe commission who allegedly “drew borders in such a manner as to support British interests”. Assam at that time contained many different groups such as Assamese, Bodos, Bengali Muslims and others. Later on, Assam was further divided into modern day Assam, Nagaland, Meghlaya and Mizoram. This was done to fulfill “tribal aspirations”, however it has not been enough to end campaigns for freedom from the Indian state by the people of that area.

While currently the whole unrest in Assam has been blamed on the “illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants”, the reality has more to do with government failure and the spread of Hindutva extremism. The initial conflict started not because of the much propagated “Muslim infiltration” but between Hindu groups over linguistics resulting in language riots in the 1960s. During nearly the same period India was using this same area to host, train and support terrorist elements known as the Mukti Bahini to wage cross border terror attacks in the then East Pakistan. Later on, it was used as a launching pad for the Shanti Bahini to destabilize the sovereign state of Bangladesh.

Later on in the 70s, with turmoil in East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh, tensions also erupted in the Assam Movement. This movement was “not because of the basic Assamese fear of losing jobs to Bengalis but losing their land”. The target of this movement despite widespread belief was not “Bangladeshi infiltrators” but “outsiders”. This was the reason the first casualties were not Muslims but two Bodo brothers gunned down by police as they fled vigilantes of the All Assam Students Union who had come to evict them. However, while this movement detested all “outsiders” yet it was not before long the local Muslims began to feel its wrath.

Bengali Muslims, who had lived in Assam since the 15th century and even before, suddenly became illegal immigrants overnight as the bogey of the “Bangladeshi Infiltrator” was set up. This was a label to be used as a pretext for inhuman atrocities to be committed upon them. The accumulation of nationalist feeling and social frustration culminated in the “Nellie massacre” in which according to unofficial estimates 5000 Muslims lost their lives. The number of deaths in this massive act of murder and carnage surpasses the combined death toll of the Babri Masjid riots and Gujarat pogrom. Yet despite the passage of 31 years not a single person has been punished and successive governments have turned a blind eye to this crime against humanity.

Such indifference suits the central Indian government. The Muslims of Assam are mainly impoverished peasants, usually at the end of the social ladder and thus do not have the power to be of concern. Also the rise of Hindutva would help this oppression of minorities to carry on without political fallout as well as deterring any political will to stop the suppression of Muslims.

It also helps India in such a way that the efforts of Assamese are diverted into brutalizing Muslims instead of into the movement for Assam’s freedom. Assam is India’s north eastern part and is of great strategic importance to India. Its geopolitical situation is of vital importance to the Indian state. Additionally Assam is highly rich in resources. It is no coincidence that India’s first and longest running oil well is located at Digboi Assam, along with its largest oil fields. Yet despite the abundance of resources the common man in Assam has not gained much at all. These facts make it clear that the Indians will resort to any course of action, in order to continue exploitation of the Assamese resources and occupation of Assam.

India has reacted in a typical manner to the Assamese demand for self determination with characteristic brutality. The self proclaimed world’s largest democracy has utilized brutal methods like massacres and rape to suppress the Assamese quest for freedom. India has also used dirty war tactics like “kill and dump” and secret killings of alleged separatists and their families in Assam.

The making of a foreign demon in the form of the Bangladeshi silent invasion is also a salient feature of Indian occupation. This tactic is used to delegitimize justified liberation movements in the eyes of local and international audiences. In Kashmir, freedom fighters fighting for UN-sanctioned self determination are labeled Pakistani infiltrators. The Khalistan movement combating Indian state terrorism was termed an ISI plan to destabilize India. Maoists fighting the exploitation of their lands are said to be linked to Europe by the Indian government. India, who formed and supported the Tamil Tigers only to have them turn on it, quickly laid the blame of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination on the CIA & Mossad.

The Indian strategy to keep the Assamese divided and their potential focused on a bogey has backfired, not only Muslims but other minorities of both ethnicity and religious beliefs have also been attacked and there has been no let up in Assam’s determination to be rid of Indian rule. The current unfortunate and inhuman act carried out on 25 December 2014 has uncovered that it is not the much maligned “illegal Muslim immigrants” at fault but the failure of India and its savage brutality as the true culprit. The Indian military, the predominately Hindu Assamese insurgent group United Liberation Front of Assam ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland NDFB consisting of mainly Hindus and Christians are responsible for the murder and torture of not only Muslims but also Adivasis, Bodos and Assamese. The man who now holds the reins of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi had already sown the seeds of bloodshed once before in Assam. Now it looks as again the soil of Assam will be dyed red with the blood of the innocent as this saga of horror and carnage drags on.

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Jawad Falak is currently pursuing MSc in International Relations from NDU. He has a keen insight on current affairs and is interested in the world at large.

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