ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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For a Lasting Peace

The contention in your editorial “The Assam Killings” (4 August 2012) that devolution of power has not solved the basic conflicts over land and citizenship in the western districts of Assam needs some elaboration. L K Advani’s recent a­ssertion that the root cause is illegal migration from Bangladesh is not based on facts. Nilim Dutta has convincingly argued against this bogey in his article in the Indian Express (31 July 2012).

To understand the complexities of the problem one has to admit the existence of a mixed population of Bodos, Bengali Muslims, Bengali Hindus, Raj­banshis and Santhals in the five districts for a long time. The fiction of millions of Bengali Muslims entering Assam recently is a figment of the imagination. Bengali Muslims entered Assam after 1850, mainly from Mymensingh district, now in Bangladesh. In the beginning of the 20th century this migration increased.

There is endemic poverty and underdevelopment in the entire area and, in this context, where people live with multiple identities, the situation goes out of control when one group tries to assert control over others. The Bodoland agitation of the 1990s and the demand for Bodoland were misconceived as the ­Bodos are a minority in this area. In 1996, in a gruesome terror attack, 400 Santhals were killed and many still live in relief camps.

In 2003, the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) was accepted by the Bodo leadership and it was hoped that peace would return in this strife-ridden area. But the structure of authority in the BTC is the root cause of the problem. The Bodos who constitute 18% of the population control the other 82%, as a disproportionately large number of seats are reserved for Bodos as scheduled tribes. The bogey of infiltration is a mechanism to deny rights to Bengali Muslims who are living here legitimately from the 1850s. By characterising many of them as “D” (the so-called “doubtfuls”), legitimate voters are sought to be disenfranchised.

To have a lasting peace, three things are absolutely essential. First, the source of the trouble is the composition of the BTC and restoration of balance with equal rights and a representational system that ensures rough parity of different groups, arrived on the basis of all party consensus, are essential. Second, there should be an immediate grant of scheduled caste/scheduled tribe status to Santhals and Rajbanshis. Third, the Bengali medium schools should be ­r­e-established and the life and property of every single Indian irrespective of caste, creed, ethnicity or religion should be firmly protected.

Subrata Mukherjee

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