The responses of the Assam government and the Centre to Bodo violence are mired in apathy
 Suhas Chakma
It has been about a month since India witnessed the largest terror killings in 2014 in which a total of 81 innocent Adivasis were massacred in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur districts of Assam on December 23, 2013, by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) headed by Songbijit Ingti Kathar. It took place just one week after another equally heart-wrenching massacre of 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren by the Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistan) terrorists who attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16.

While the Peshawar killings were televised and evoked global condemnation, the Adivasis in the hinterlands of Assam were not so lucky. Seven-year-old Talla Tudu, despite being sprayed seven bullets by the NDFB(S) did not make for a compelling news story in the TV studios in New Delhi. The killings that caused displacement of over 300,000 Adivasis, the single largest conflict-induced internal displacement in the world in 2014, did not see international media scurrying to appeal for humanitarian assistance. The North-East truly lived up to its reputation of falling off the map.

It is not only on the TV screens, but the Adivasi killings also fell off the maps of social media. On the Peshawar massacre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “It is a senseless act of unspeakable brutality that has claimed lives of the most innocent of human beings — young children in their school… My heart goes out to everyone who lost their loved ones today. We share their pain & offer our deepest condolences.” The warmth of the PM’s sentiment on Peshawar victims could be felt, but on the killing of the Adivasis, it was just another anodyne tweet, “Killing of innocent people in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar is an act of cowardice. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased.”

The largest terror killings in India since Modi took over as the PM was an occasion to convey the government’s seriousness on terror and the North-East. The PM’s visit to the survivors and relatives of the victims could have conveyed a message beyond photo-opportunities. Instead, in another anodyne tweet, Modi announced that home minister Rajnath Singh would visit Assam.

But the fact remains that the home ministry has been struggling very hard to paraphrase terror. Minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju, while condemning the Adivasi killings stated, “This is not fighting for a cause. This is a disservice to the community they claim to represent.” Are we recognising that the NDFB(S) is fighting for the cause of the Bodo community? The Bodos actually loath Songbijit as he is ethnically a Karbi and not a Bodo. In fact, Songbijit and his younger brother, Prakash Ingti Kathar, the head of another armed group of Assam, ie, the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front, have turned insurgency, North-East’s cottage industry, into a family enterprise. Rijiju’s response was not a surprise, considering the strongest words used by home minister Rajnath Singh to describe the massacre of 14 CRPF jawans by the Maoists on December 1 in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh were that the killings are “terrorists’ acts”.

There are, of course, underlying causes of each conflict, but neither the NDFB(S) represents the Bodos, nor the Maoists represent the Adivasis. Further, both the NDFB(S) and the Maoists do not have any specific demand for respectively the Bodos and the Adivasis. Yet, surprisingly, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) appears to believe in the dictum: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

Politicians of all shades are infamous for their anodyne statements and the less said about Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the better it is. However, it is the response of the Assam police to the NDFB(S) massacre which was the most disturbing. Even before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was handed over the cases, Inspector General of Assam police (law and order) SN Singh gave a clean chit to Songbijit by declaring in a press conference that “it was the outfit’s deputy army chief Bidai, who had ordered the killings”.

It was nothing short of rubbing salt to the wounds caused by the NDFB bullets as the Assam Police and intelligence agencies had lost the specific actionable inputs, ie, conversation among the NDFB(S) cadres about the pending attacks on the Adivasis, in translation, and the security agencies consequently failed to prevent the massacre. The statement of IG SN Singh further reflects the typical response of the Assam Police to such massacres. In the last two decades of killings involving the insurgents, the Assam police had not filed a single chargesheet despite, according to official estimates, the death of at least 93 persons in the Bodo-Muslim conflict of 1993, 113 people in the Bodo Muslim conflict of 1994, over 200 in the Bodo-Adivasi conflict of 1996, 31 in the Bodo-Adivasi conflict of 1998, 60 in the Hmar-Dimasa conflict of 2003, 104 persons in the Karbi-Dimasa conflict of 2005, 57 the Bodo-Muslim riots in 2008, 73 in the Dimasa Naga conflict of 2009 and 10 people in the Garo-Rabha conflict of 2011. The first chargesheet was filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation which was handed over the case of the Muslim-Bodo conflicts of July 2012 in which 109 persons were killed.

The massacre of the Adivasis shows once again India’s typical responses to terror. There is the usual failure to prevent terror even when there are actionable inputs. Once killings start, security forces seldom respond on time to prevent further killings. The arrest of three top leaders of the NDFB(S) including Ajoi Basumatary from Kohima on January 14, 2015, in a joint operation by the NIA and the Nagaland police exposed a new element. The Nagaland police personnel allegedly, in exchange for huge amounts of money, allowed Ajoi Basumatary to talk to his family members after his arrest and this apparently allowed the NDFB(S) to remove many sophisticated weapons under his command.

It is not the anodyne statements and shades used to describe terror that only pose challenges. Ask the innocent Adivasis who have been repeatedly targeted in the last two decades. They will say that deployment of the security forces has been used by the Assam government to ensure that those displaced by these terror attacks could be sent home without any security and rehabilitation until the next attack.


The author is Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights