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Rationalizing

Ethnic Cleansing
In Assam

Cover picture: Bodies of the victims of Khagrabari Massacre after being handed over to their families.
Photo – Smita Dutta, Image copyright © SRAO 2014
Table of Contents
Executive Summary ............................................................................................................................. 3

Introduction ......................................................................................................................................... 4

Chapter 1. A Brief History of Ethnic Conflict in western Assam ......................................................... 7

Chapter 2. The Myth of ‘Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants’ ................................................................ 16

and Violence Against Muslims in Assam ........................................................................................... 16

Chapter 3. Violence against Muslims in the BTAD, 2012 .................................................................. 19

Chapter 4: The Massacres of Muslims in BTAD, 2014 ....................................................................... 22

Chapter 5: Findings ........................................................................................................................... 27

Chapter 5. Recommendations ........................................................................................................... 30

Additional References: ...................................................................................................................... 32


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The Indian State of Assam has witnessed mass violence against minorities, particularly Muslims
several times in the last few decades. The area known as Bodo Territorial Administered Districts
(BTAD), as well as surrounding areas in western Assam is inhabited by Muslims as well as Bodo
tribals. Ethnic rivalry between these two communities has been the primary cause of mass violence
against the Muslim citizens of Assam, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the displacement of over half
a million inhabitants of the state.

The right to life and security, a fundamental human right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, has
been denied to countless people of Assam, due to the failure of the state polity and law enforcement to
protect the Muslim citizens of the state. In many instances, the complicity of the Relief measures have
been remarkably insufficient to deal with the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis, and devoid of the
need to protect the dignity of the victims.

This report covers the wider context behind the violence in Assam and the motives behind the
persecution of the state’s Muslim population. It also explores the mechanisms of such persecution,
including the false characterization of Muslims in western Assam as “illegal immigrants” from
Bangladesh. Such mischaracterization has been disseminated systematically in order to whip up
sectarian tensions, often times with the complicity of sections the media.

The relief camps setup to shelter the survivors have been rocked by human trafficking, sexual
exploitation of young children and women, and elderly abuse. These crimes against the hapless victims
continue with impunity with virtually no consequences for the perpetrators.

Appropriate judicial intervention is urgently needed to investigate the mass violence, and crimes
against humanity committed against Assam’s Muslim population. The state must provide adequate
relief measures for the hundreds of thousands who have lost their property and livelihood.

The state must also ensure that all citizens, regardless of religious or ethnic affiliation, have equal
access to opportunities and political power. There cannot be any democratic or constitutional basis for
the reservation of 75% of seats in a legislature of a specially administered region for a particular group
which barely constitutes 33% of the population. Allowing various militant groups to bear arms even
after they have surrendered has exacerbated the problem in the absence of an effective strategy for
counterinsurgency.

Acronyms used in the report:

BTAD: Bodo Territorial Administered Districts

BLT: Bodo Liberation Tigers

NDFB: National Democratic Front of Bodoland

BTC: Bodo Territorial Council

CBI: Central Bureau of Investigation

COI: Census of India

BPF: Bodoland People’s Front

KLO: Kamtapur Liberation Organisation


INTRODUCTION

On May 1, 2014 at 8 p.m., three Muslim villagers were gunned down while resting in their courtyard in
the remote village of Narsingbari, situated at Baksa district of Bodo Territorial Administered District
(BTAD in short) in India’s north-eastern state of Assam. Eyewitnesses confirmed that four youths
belonging to the Bodo tribe shot the victims before fleeing across a river over a rickety bamboo bridge.
Two women and one man were killed during the attack, while two girls sustained injuries. The younger
girl was barely 3 years old; she survived the attack but a bullet injured her left palm.

Four hours later, another group of militants belonging to a Bodo tribe broke down the doors of houses
belonging to Muslim families and fatally shot eight of them in the village of Balapara Part I, of
Kokrajhar district of BTAD. Among the casualties were little children and a pregnant woman. Two
villagers were critically injured.

The killing spree had just begun. The next day around 3:30 p.m, armed Bodo militants, ex-militants,
ex-poachers and government forest guards launched a joint attack against the Khagrabari NC village,
Baksa district of BTAD. The perpetrators shot at the Muslim villagers and set their homes on fire.
Some children were hacked to death and thrown into the burning houses. Many who had jumped into
the Beki River, a nearby river to escape were shot and killed. A chapori1 on the eastern side of the
village became a killing field. It took two to three days to ascertain the number of casualties. Bodies
were being fished out of the river for nearly two weeks. The final death toll was 36; two children are
still missing. With the exception of one man, all the victims were either women or children.

All three massacres were unleashed in less than 48 hours within the special administrative region called
the Bodo Territorial Administered Districts (BTAD) in Assam. It is to be noted here that in two
districts of the BTAD, Kokrajhar and Chirang, large scale violence was unleashed against its Muslim
inhabitants across hundreds of villages. The result was the enforced displacement of nearly 350,000
impoverished Muslim villagers during July 2012.

The current study was undertaken by the Indian American Muslim Council, in collaboration with
human rights activist Mr. Nilim Dutta, in order to advocate for justice for the victims, through greater
awareness of the various aspects of the Assam violence, and the wider context of the Muslim
community’s persecution in the BTAD area.

The report is divided as follows:

1
Chars and chaporis are sandbars formed by deposition silts/sediments in rivers
flowing out of the Eastern Himalayas. Some of those are quite large to be called river
islands and are permanent. Many others emerge and disappear in the cycle of floods,
erosion and frequent changing of course by these rivers.
Chapter 1 briefly explains the history of the ethnic conflict in western Assam that has led to the rise of
xenophobic chauvinism and radicalized the politics of ethnic cleansing against non-Bodos in the
BTAD area.

Chapter 2 examines how the myth of illegal infiltration from Bangladesh has been used to instigate
violence against a linguistic and religious minority, and its linkage to the violence in the BTAD.

Chapter 3 recounts and analyzes the violence that was unleashed against the Muslim inhabitants of the
BTAD during July 2012.

Chapter 4 explains the recent massacres of Muslim villagers in the Kokrajhar and Baksa Districts of the
BTAD in May 2014.

Chapter 5 lists a series of recommendations for policy makers to restore peace in the region.

Methodology: The report is based on both primary and secondary data. Extensive interviews with the
survivors, eye witnesses, officials and social workers carried out under an ethical and non-intimidating
environment are the primary sources of this report. This exercise was carried out over a period of two
years. Wherever possible, the testimonies were video recorded with their consent and with due respect
to their comfort level. Secondary data was collected from different sources like archives, media reports,
legal documents etc. and are used for data analysis.

The findings regarding the ethnic cleansing of non-Bodos in the BTAD and on the issue of alleged
illegal Bangladeshi immigration have been based on meticulous analysis of official demographic data
from the decadal censuses of India for over 26,000 villages in Assam, including 3,066 villages of the
four BTAD districts.

Acknowledgement: This report is based on extensive information shared by human rights activist Mr.
Nilim Dutta, as well as survivors of the violence in Assam.
Map of India
CHAPTER 1. A BRIEF HISTORY OF ETHNIC CONFLICT IN WESTERN ASSAM

Bodos are the largest plains tribe of Assam. Bodos constitute 4.86% (1,296,162 people) of Assam’s
population, according to the Census of India (COI) 2001. 96.78% of them live in rural areas.2

The Primary Census Abstract from the COI 2011 reveals that the Scheduled Tribes constitute 33.5% of
the population in the four BTAD districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri in Assam. Since
the Bodos are recognized as a Scheduled Tribe in Assam, we can infer from the above that the Bodos
do not constitute more than 33.5% of the total population, even in the BTAD districts where their
population is highly concentrated. Although they are not a numerical majority in their claimed
homeland, the Bodos comprise the dominant political elite and enjoy unparalleled legislative influence
due to the legislative structure of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) that administers the BTAD
as a special administrative region.

Bodos are part of the larger Kachari group of tribes belonging to the Tibeto-Burman language group
and are among the oldest of the communities who had inhabited the Brahmaputra valley of Assam.
Writing in his seminal monograph The Kacharis, published in 1911, Reverend Sidney Endle remarked,
“It may well be that the Kachari race were the original autochthones of Assam, and that even now,
though largely Hinduised, they still form a large, main constituent element in the permanent population
of the Province.”
Efforts for the assertion of Bodo ethnic
identity can be traced back to pre-
independence days, but it became a mass
political movement under the charismatic
leadership of Upendranath Brahma. He
was elected as the President of the All
Bodo Students’ Union in 1986; this union
spearheaded the movement for a separate
Bodo state. Although there were many
genuine grievances that fueled the Bodo
Movement, insurgency quickly overtook
The All Bodo Students’ Union rallying to demand a this political mobilization.
separate state of Bodoland. © SRAO 2013
The Bodo Security Force, later renamed as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), was
the first of the armed Bodo organizations to emerge in 1986 under the leadership of Ranjan Daimary. It
was followed by the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in 1996. Not only did the Bodo militant groups
systematically target non-Bodo populations for massacres over the years, they eliminated many liberal
Bodo leaders and intellectuals. They indulged in a long fratricidal war against each other.

Since the late 1980s the political violence against non-Bodos in the areas of Assam between the
Brahmaputra River and Kingdom of Bhutan showed several broad patterns:

1. Major large-scale organized violence against non-Bodos incited and led by armed
elements.

 In 1987, organized violence against ‘Assamese’ (caste Hindu) and Koch-Rajbangshi


villagers made them flee the northern areas of the Bongaigaon (now Chirang) District.

 In October 1993, after the signing of the Memorandum of Settlement (Bodo Accord) in
Guwahati, Assam on 20 February 1993)3 that formed Bodo Automonous Council (BAC),

2
Bodos are enumerated in the COI by their ‘mother tongue’ as a distinct linguistic
community. Their numbers are reflected in the ‘Language’ data. Even though the
Primary Census Abstract from the COI 2011 has been officially released, the data on
language and religion has not yet been released. Hence, the data from COI 2001 has
been cited.
large-scale violence against Muslim villagers in the Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon Districts
left at least 18,000 Muslims displaced. Few of those displaced could return home or were
rehabilitated. For instance, 42 Muslim families displaced from villages in the Bengtol
Revenue Circle of the Chirang District remain in a squalid relief camp even after 21
years.4

 In July 1994, large-scale violence against Muslims in the Barpeta District left at least
56,000 Muslim villagers displaced and more than 100 were killed. At least 40 Muslim
villagers taking shelter in a relief camp in Bansbari were gunned down by Bodo militants
who attacked the camp. The area is now in the Baksa District, the same area where two of
the latest massacres in May 2014 is repeated.

 In May 1996, violence against the Adivasis in the Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon Districts
left many dead and at least 262,600 displaced.

 In September 1998, renewed violence against Adivasis left at least 314,000 displaced.

 In 2008, clashes between Bodos and Muslims in the Udalguri District left at least 200,000
displaced.

 In 2012, large-scale violence unleashed against Muslim villagers in the Kokrajhar and
Chirang Districts left at least 450,000 displaced.

The instances cited above constitute a small percentage of major clashes. As the xenophobic attitude of
the population towards Muslims extends to the media, most of the daily atrocities are barely reported.
Regardless of the immediate trigger for each spate of violence, the motive has always been to drive out
the non-Bodo community from their homes and land, as well as to consolidate the Bodo homogeneity
demographic.

2. Recurring low intensity violence by the Bodo militant groups with periodic large-scale
massacres.

 On January 13, 1998, militants belonging to the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT)
gunned down 17 Assamese villagers in Kakerikuchi village, now in the Rangia
Revenue Circle of the Baksa District.

 On January 15, 2002, 13 non-Bodo villagers were gunned down in Sikhajhar, now in
the Chirang District, by militants belonging to the NDFB.

 On January 21, 2002, 17 Hindi-speaking Bihari labourers were killed in Jangalbari


near the Indo-Bhutan border, now in the Udalguri District.

Such violence continues to date, even after the BTC was formed as a settlement to fulfill the demands
of the Bodos.

3. Spate of bombings intended to spread fear psychosis among the Muslim population.

 On December 30, 1996, the BLT triggered a bomb blast in the Brahmaputra Mail,
killing at least 33 people. The Brahmaputra Mail is a passenger train that runs
between Assam and New Delhi, popular among students.

3
For detailed accord visit, https://peaceaccords.nd.edu/site_media/media/accords/Bodo_Accord_-
_1993.pdf
4
Dutta, Nilim, “The Eternal Wait for Rehabilitation:
http://www.bodoethnicconflict.in/films/violence-affected-needs-to-bribe-officials-for-rehabilitation-
grants-still-wait-20-years and TCN special Series on Riot relief camps of Assam, available at :
http://twocircles.net/Special%20Reports/tcn_special_series_riot_relief_camps_assam.html
 On October 30, 2008, the NDFB triggered 11 serial bomb blasts within four places in
Assam, including three of the worst blasts in the capital city of Guwahati. At least 88
people were killed in these blasts. It must not be overlooked that initially these blasts
were blamed on ‘Islamic jihadi terrorists’ by some senior police officials. The truth
was established when the case was re-investigated by the Central Bureau of
Investigations (CBI). The Founder and Chairman of NDFB Ranjan Daimary is on
trial for his role in these bombings.

It is evident that the movement for political assertion by the Bodos has turned xenophobic and
brutal violence is deeply embedded in the ways it expresses itself.

Formation of the BTC and the Political Marginalization of Non-Bodos in the BTC

The movement for a separate Bodo state, Bodoland, to be carved out of Assam continues to be the
fundamental basis of Bodo political assertion. The rallying demand of the Bodoland movement is
“Divide Assam 50/50.” In effect, 50% of the territorial area of Assam should be made into a separate
Bodo state for a community which comprises less than 5% of its population, according to COI 2001.

In order to give the Bodos political autonomy, the BTAD was formed with four new districts of Assam
as a special administrative region under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution as a result of the
Bodo Peace Accord of February 10, 2003. These four new districts were Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa
and Udalguri and were to be administered by the BTC. The Bodo Peace Accord was a tripartite
‘Memorandum of Settlement’ signed between the Bodo insurgent group BLT, the Union of India and
the Government of Assam5. In pursuance to this Accord, the BTC led by Hagrama Mahilary, the
military chief of BLT, came into existence on December 7, 2003. The BTC was to administer the four
new districts, formed out of 3,082 villages by re-organization of the existing districts of Assam as an
‘autonomous council’ with 40 subjects in its jurisdiction and Kokrajhar as its headquarters.6

What was willfully overlooked was that repeated spate of brutal violence against non-Bodo
communities from the late 1980s had led to a demographic transformation in the villages that the
BTAD was ultimately formed out of. A large number of ‘Assamese’, Koch-Rajbangshis, Bengali
Hindus, Nepalis, Adivasis and Muslims had already fled the northern areas of Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon,
Barpeta and Darrang districts by 2001.

Multi-ethnic villages in these areas were sought to be turned into ethnically homogenous Bodo
villages. The Hindu population declined from 89.91% to 65.94% and the Muslim population from
16.45% to 7.69% between 1991-2001 in the Kokrajhar Part of the Sidli Revenue Circle. The population
of Bodos in the same Revenue Circle increased from 52.97% to 59.36% (55,200 to 67,651) as per the
COI 1991 and 2001. In Chirang, the decadal growth rate of the population actually decreased by
0.08%.7

By 2001, several hundred thousand Adivasis and Muslims are rendered homelss and were still living in
relief camps even after a decade due to ethnic violence. This is despite the fact that Clause 13 of the
Bodo Peace Accord made it binding on all parties to ensure the rehabilitation of all those affected by
ethnic violence:

“Special Rehabilitation Programme for the people affected by ethnic disturbances: The
Special Rehabilitation Programme (SRP) for the people affected by ethnic disturbances
in Assam, who are at present living at relief camps in Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon etc. shall
be completed by the Government of Assam with active support of BTC. Necessary

5
http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/assam/terrorist_outfits/bltf.htm
6
“Memorandum of Settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC),”
http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/assam/documents/papers/memorandum_feb02.htm
7
Dutta, Nilim, “Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims in Assam,”, available at
http://www.bodoethnicconflict.in/opinions/untold-stories-of-ethnic-cleansing-from-the-bodo-heartland.
funds for their rehabilitation shall be provided by the Government of India and lands
which are free from all encumbrances required for such rehabilitation shall be made
available by the BTC.”

This, however, remained merely on paper. For instance, even after a decade of the formation of the
BTC, 32,613 Adivasi families (as per official Government of Assam figures tabled in the State
Legislative Assembly) displaced by violence between 1996-1998 were still living in relief camps in the
Kokrajhar district in 2012. Many Muslim families have been living even longer in relief camps during
2012 when violence against Muslims erupted. It is evident that the ethnic fault lines between Bodos
and non-Bodos have only grown deeper. The situation is prone to erupt into violence at the slightest
provocation. This is proven again and again in numerous successive clashes between Bodos and non-
Bodos, inevitably followed by massacres of non-Bodo communities.

The Bodo Peace Accord enabled the BLT to transform itself into a political entity participating in
democratic electoral politics called the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). They became the dominant
Bodo entity in electoral politics. However, it failed to bring lasting peace. One of the reasons for this
was the fact that the much older Bodo insurgent group, the NDFB, did not come to an agreement with
the Union of India at the time of signing of the Memorandum of Settlement with the BLT. Even though
the NDFB finally signed a tripartite ceasefire agreement with the Union of India and the Government
of Assam on May 25, 2005, a group of its leaders and cadres led by its founder Ranjan Daimary were
opposed to a settlement and peace. The NDFB carried out one of the most devastating serial-bombings
through Assam during a ceasefire period on October 30, 2008. Nine almost simultaneous blasts ripped
across Guwahati, Barpeta Road, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon, killing over 70 people and maiming
hundreds.

Facing intense pressure, the NDFB split and the faction desiring to continue the ceasefire elected a new
chief on December 25, 2008. The other faction led by Daimary continued to carry on the brutal
insurgency till Daimary was captured in Bangladesh and handed over to India without extradition on
May 1, 2010. This was an unprecedented cooperation by the Bangladesh Government, which also had
captured and handed over virtually the entire top echelon of the most powerful insurgent group of
Assam, the United Liberation Front of Assam, just a few months before.

By 2012, the BPF had ruled the BTC for close to ten years with an overwhelming majority for two
successive terms. It also remained a coalition partner in the ruling Congress party. The hope that the
Bodos had placed on the BPF had, however, begun to wear off. On the ground, little had changed for
the ordinary Bodo. This resulted in a renewed demand for a separate Bodo state by political rivals of
the BPF.

The legislative and administrative structure of the BTC had, on the other hand, deeply alienated non-
Bodos. Although the Bodos were not more than 30% of the population in the four BTAD districts, 65%
of the seats in the Council that were originally reserved for the Scheduled Tribes were now reserved for
the Bodos. In the five seats open to all, the electoral constituencies were delimited in such a way that
Bodos had the advantage of winning, as is borne out by actual election results.

Making things worse was a provision of Clause 4.8 of the Memorandum of Settlement ensured that
there would be no space for grassroots democracy in local governance:

“Panchayati Raj system ceases to be in force in the council area, the powers of the
Panchayati Raj Institutions in such matters shall be vested with the Council.”

This further restricted any possibility of the spread of democracy. In place of Panchayats, the villages
in the BTAD have the Village Council Development Committee whose members are nominated by the
BTC. Hence, many privileges were given mostly to either former BLT militants or BPF supporters.
Non-Bodo communities found themselves to be marginalized in the constitutional process in an
insidious manner. This inevitably deepened the ethnic and communal fault lines due to growing
resentment.

The massacres of Muslim villagers on May 1 and 2, 2014 occurred as retaliation for daring to challenge
the Bodo political hegemony from the non-Bodo communities by collectively putting up a candidate
against the Bodo candidates in the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha Constituency (LSC) in the General Elections
held for India’s Parliament in 2014. The numerical superiority of the non-Bodo communities together
made it apparent even before the results were declared on May 16, 2014 that the Bodo candidates
would finally be defeated after 20 years. The political environment and the specific factors that
triggered these massacres are discussed further in successive chapters of this report.

All the incidents of violence, figures of casualty, figures of displacement and other statistics cited in
this chapter are from official records of the Government of India and the Government of Assam. Those
incidents have also been reported widely in the media and can be easily corroborated.

The region experienced huge forced internal displacement. IDMC reported in 2012 that when an IDP
camp is closed, its residents may no longer appear in official statistics. However, this does not
necessary mean that they have been able to return home and rebuild a durable solution by integrating in
the place they were displaced to or settling elsewhere in the country. There is no monitoring of the
number of people displaced outside camp. Majority of the displaced in BTAD are the Muslims
enforcing them to lead a life in poverty and without any human dignity.

Numbers of IDPs in Western Assam8

Initial numbers of IDPs Latest available figures

Official information Other Official Other sources


sources information

Displacement Total By Total By district Total By district


situation district

Bodo-Muslim 18,000 Kokrajhar: More Kokrajhar:


violence (3,568 10,481 than 4,991 (1,233
(Kokrajhar families)10 (2,074 20,00012 families)13:
District and families) 4,057 in
what is now in 8 Bangaldoba
Chirang camps11 camp and 934
District9) in Sandalatari
(October camp awaiting
1993) settlement

8
Source IDMC report on Ethnic Conflict and Internal displacement in North East
India, http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/publications/2011/201111-ap-
India-this-is-our-land-sum-country-en.pdf
9
Chirang District was carved out of Bongaigaon District in 2004. Statoids, 25
September 2011.
10
MCRG, February 2007, p.7.
11
Information from Kokrajhar District Administration as of November 2010,
provided to IDMC by journalist based in Kokrajhar, April 2011.
12
Bhaumik, 2009, p.135.
13
Information from Kokrajhar District Administration as of November 2010,
provided to IDMC by journalist based in Kokrajhar, April 2011.
Initial numbers of IDPs Latest available figures

elsewhere in
BTAD14

Bongaigaon:

1,500 (250
families) at
15
Bordhup site ;

at least 565
families in
Hapasara
camp16

Chirang:

616 (110
families) in
Nangalbhanga
camp17;

285 (43
families) in
Bengtal camp18;

at least 205
families in
19
Salabila camp

Estimate (sub- More than


total)20 10,000

Bodo-Adivasi 202,684 More Kokrajhar: Chirang:


violence (42,214 than
(Kokrajhar families) 250,000, 9,265 (1,698 154 families in
District and in 61 of whom families): Bengtal,
what is now camps 22
at least Veterinary
1,541 (263 Complex
Chirang 181,932
families) in camp25
District21) Adivasis

14
Reply by Assam State Government in Assam State Assembly to question by representative Hafiz
Basir Ahmed, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), 9-11 June 2010, provided to IDMC by
Assam-based journalist, 31 March 2011.
15
TwoCircles.net, 9 March 2011.
16
The Ganaahdikar, 13 July 2011.
17
TwoCircles.net, 10 March 2011.
18
TwoCircles.net, 11 March 2011.
19
The Ganaahdikar, 13 July 2011.
20
Where only the number of displaced families is available, it is conservatively assumed that one
family consists of four individuals.
21
Chirang District was carved out of Bongaigaon District in 2004. Statoids, 25 September 2011.
22
Information from Kokrajhar District Administration as of November 2010, provided by journalist
based in Kokrajhar, April 2011; Dutta and Sengupta, 2011, p.48.
Initial numbers of IDPs Latest available figures

(May and June and Joypur camp;


1996) 55,736
Bodos 5,726 (1,057
were families) in
staying Sapkata camp;
in
1,998 (378
camps23
families) in
Kachugaon
camp24

Returned More
Adivasi IDPs than
who were 7,00026
forcibly
evicted in
October and
November
2010
(Lungsung,
Kokrajhar
District)

Estimate (sub- More than


total)27 16,000

Bodo-Adivasi 314,342 Kokrajhar: Kokrajhar: Bongaigaon:


violence (48,556
(Kokrajhar families)29 219,108 19,344 (3,615 8 families in
District and (34,348 families): North
what is now families) Runikhata
in 63 3,460 (620 camp;
Chirang
camps30 families) in
District28)
Joypur A camp; 83 families in
(May 1998)

25
TwoCircles.net, 12 March 2011.
23
Bhaumik, 2009, p.136.
24
Information from Kokrajhar District Administration as of November 2010, provided by journalist
based in Kokrajhar, April 2011.
26
ACHR, 19 April 2011, pp.9-11; CNI SBSS, no date
(http://www.cnisbss.org/infocus/Adivasis_face_forced_eviction_in_Bodoland.pdf)
27
Where only the number of displaced families is available, it is conservatively assumed that one
family consists of four individuals.
28
Chirang District was carved out of Bongaigaon District in 2004. Statoids, 25 September 2011.
29
Information from Kokrajhar District Administration as of November 2010, provided by journalist
based in Kokrajhar, April 2011; Dutta and Sengupta, 2011, p.48.
30
Information from Kokrajhar District Administration as of November 2010, provided by journalist
based in Kokrajhar, April 2011; Dutta and Sengupta, 2011, p.48.
Initial numbers of IDPs Latest available figures

4,240 (753 Hirimba camp;


families) in
Joypur B camp; 45 families in
Bhurpaar
1,745 (365 Balabari camp32
families) in
Bishmuri B
camp;

2,222 (459
families) in
Serfunguri
(SATC) camp;

3,935 (687
families) in
Hazarkia camp;

925 (278
families) in
Anthaibari
camp;

2,817 (453
families) in
Athiabari
camp31

Estimate (sub- Almost 20,000


total)33

Bodo-Muslim 214,69534 Darrang: Udalguri:


violence
(Udalguri and 120,545 staying At least 3,884
Darrang in 56 camps35 staying in 2
Districts) camps36
(August-
October 2008)

Estimate (sub- Several thousand


total)37

31
Information from Kokrajhar District Administration as of November 2010, provided by journalist
based in Kokrajhar, April 2011.
32
TwoCircles.net, 14 March 2011.
33
Where only the number of displaced families is available, it is conservatively assumed that one
family consists of four individuals.
34
The Telegraph (India), 20 January 2009.
35
ACHR, 6 August 2009.
36
AITPN, June 2009.
37
Where only the number of displaced families is available, it is conservatively assumed that one
family consists of four individuals.
Initial numbers of IDPs Latest available figures

Estimate of the 46,000-60,000


total number of
IDPs in
Western Assam
CHAPTER 2. THE MYTH OF ‘ILLEGAL BANGLADESHI IMMIGRANTS’
AND VIOLENCE AGAINST MUSLIMS IN ASSAM

Large-scale migration of Bengali speaking Muslim peasants from East Bengal into Assam during the
colonial period is a well-documented historical fact. Malevolent British policies that pauperized
Bengal’s repressive Zamindari system and dispossessed its Muslim population was largely responsible
for the flight of many such peasants into a land-surplus and labour-deficient neighboring state of
Assam. This migration transformed the demography of Assam much before the Partition of India and
independence. Although ‘East Pakistan’ came into existence out of the Muslim majority districts of
Bengal, and many Muslims migrated back from Assam, many others decided not to. Instead, they
decided to call Assam their home, adopt Assamese as their language and assimilate into the local
culture as best as they could.

This is the reason why, after more than 50 years since independence, although the Indo-Bangladesh
border district of Dhubri in Assam is 74% Muslim, the district with the highest percentage of Muslim
population in Assam is also 70% Assamese by language. While many tribal communities who once
considered themselves to be within the Assamese identity have progressively started asserting their
separate identity, like the Bodos, it is the Muslim community of East Bengal who had embraced
Assamese as their language and helped Assamese community to retain its numerical majority in
Assam. Despite this, they have always been forcefully singled out and alienated by discrimination and
violence.

When the Assamese (or rather Ahoms) political elite felt their political hegemony slipping in the face
of a new numerically significant political alliance including Muslims of East Bengal in the 1970s, the
claim of illegal immigration of Muslims emerged. It was claimed that the incessant infiltration of
Bangladeshi Muslims has ‘marginalized’ Assam’s indigenous communities by turning many of
Assam’s districts into ‘a Muslim majority.’ It was also alleged that these Bangladeshi Muslims have
progressively encroached on land that belonged to the indigenous communities and dispossessed them.
If this was not resisted and the Bangladeshis who have allegedly already infiltrated were not detected
and deported, soon the Assamese would be rendered destitute in their own state. The paranoia this
propaganda whipped up turned into the anti-Bangladeshi ‘Assam Movement.’ Even though the Assam
Movement was outwardly against the so called ‘illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’, it actually insinuated
that Assam’s Muslims whose forefathers had migrated from East Bengal decades ago prior to the
Partition were actually illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. These claims not only sowed the seeds of
suspicion against Assam’s Muslims, but also incited gruesome violence against the community.38

Such an environment of incited communal hostility led to one of the worst genocides of a religious
minority in independent India in villages around Nellie in the former Morigaon Subdivision of the
Nagaon District on February 18, 198339. The immediate cause for the massacre is explained as hostility
from the Muslim immigrants who defied the boycott of the General Election in 1983 called for by the
numerically dominant Hindu Assamese. This has to be understood within the larger context of an
atmosphere of immense political turmoil in Assam unleashed by the calls to evict ‘illegal Bangladeshi
immigrants’ from Assam that began in 1979. The impoverished Muslim villagers who died in Nellie
have always been labelled as ‘illegal Bangladeshi’ settlers in the dominant discourse, as if that would
be anymore defensible if it was even true. The Wikipedia entry on the “Nellie massacre” even says,
“Most of the victims were Muslims originally from East Bengal (present Bangladesh)...” 40 This was
not the only massacre where Muslims were accused as Bangladeshis in Assam during 1983.

38
Professor Monirul Hussain’s The Assam Movement: Class, Ideology, Identity offers the most incisive
insights and analysis of nature and politics of the anti-Bangladeshi movement in Assam from 1979 to
1985 during which the Muslim community in Assam suffered some of the worst massacres and other
brutalities.
39
Nellie Massacre 1983, TCN Publication, available at:
http://twocircles.net/special_reports/nellie_1983.html#.VB5w25SSzYY
40
Wikipedia, “Nellie massacre,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nellie_massacre.
The one member Tewary Commission constituted by then Chief Minister of Assam Hiteswar Saika to
investigate the Nellie massacre tallied the death toll at just 661, but efforts of researchers like Diganta
Sarma have released the names of at least 1,819 Muslim victims 41. This point to the questionable
accuracy of the investigation carried out by the Commission and leaves one to suspect that this was a
cover-up of the scale of the gruesome massacre.42 This report is not officially made public yet43.

The Assam Accord was signed on August 15, 1985. It provided a platform for those in the proponents
of the anti-Bangladeshi movement to evolve into a political party, the Assam Gana Parishad, and win
the subsequent elections in Assam. Sometime thereafter, all 684 cases that were registered with regard
to the Nellie massacre were given a quiet burial. Only 310 of the 684 cases that were registered were
actually chargesheeted. The State of Assam dropped those cases, completely illegally. Justice
succumbed to political designs once again. The survivors were left with a pittance compensation of
5,000 rupees to the next of kin of the deceased and 2,000 rupees to those who were injured.

The denial of justice for the Nellie massacre created the perception of impunity that any violence
against Muslims in Assam would go unpunished. With every successive atrocity inflicted on the
community since then, this perception of impunity has only been reinforced. Naturally, this has
rendered the Muslim residents of the BTAD immensely vulnerable as targets of violence.

The accusations that the Muslims were actually the perpetrators of the violence in Kokrajhar and
Chirang in July 2012 and that they were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants began with an insinuation
from the Election Commissioner of India, Shri Hari Shankar Brahma, who is himself a Bodo from the
Kokrajhar District. He wrote an inflammatory op-ed in one of the most prominent national newspapers
in India, The Indian Express; he mentioned that the violence was between Hindu Bodos and
Bangladeshi Muslims and that it was because they had nearly dispossessed the indigenous Bodos of
their land by illegal encroachment.44

That the official empirical evidence and data of the Government of India completely refutes any such
claim indicates the depth of prejudice prevalent against the Muslims in Assam. Such a baseless and
inflammatory claim by no less than an Election Commissioner of India immediately sought to be cited
as ‘truth’ by political entities not known for spreading communcal harmony and having a demonstrated
animus towards Bangladeshis.

Right-wing political parties seized this opportunity and cited the Election Commissioner’s atrocious
opinion as proof of the Muslim victims being illegal ‘Bangladeshis.’ This was also cited by India’s
former Union Home Minister L.K. Advani of the Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) at a press conference in
Guwahati45.

It took concerted efforts to demolish these malicious claims. The author of this report refuted every
allegation made by the Election Commissioner in the same op-ed page of The Indian Express five days
later on August 3, 2012.46 The contentions that Muslims in the BTAD were ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ and

41
Diganta Sharma, Nellie 1983, Eklabya Prakashan, Jorhat, Assam, 2008
42
Dutta, Nilim, “Remembering the Nellie Massacre of 18 February 1983,”
http://www.mythsofthebangladeshiinassam.in/general/remembering-the-nellie-massacre-of-18-
february-1983.
43
An Untold Shame, http://www.tehelka.com/an-untold-shame-2/
44
Brahma, Hari Shankar, “How to Share Assam,” http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/how-to-share-
assam/980438/0.
45
B ANGLADESHI INFILTRATORS A T HREAT T O SECURITY: ADVANI,
HTTP://W WW.T HEHINDU.C OM/T ODAYS -P APER /B ANGLADESHI-INFILTRATORS -A-T HREAT-T O-
SECURITY -ADVANI/ARTICLE 1348003.E CE
46
Dutta, Nilim, “Don’t Blame the Immigrant,” available at:
http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/dont-blame-the-immigrant/983114
that they were responsible for precipitating the violence was vigorously contested by several others in
the national and international media.47

On September 13, 2012, the author of this report and former Union Home Secretary G. K. Pillai
addressed the foreign media in Delhi in a long comprehensive interaction where South Asia Bureau
Chiefs and correspondents of most of the premier news organizations of the world were present,
including BBC and Reuters. Pillai categorically denied that the Muslim victims of violence in the
BTAD were Bangladeshis or that they were responsible for precipitating the conflict; he is also on
record speaking to the Australia Network about this claim. 48

The myths that continue to be perpetuated about Muslims in Assam are:


a. They are actually ‘illegal Bangladeshi’ immigrants
b. They have been responsible for demographically marginalizing its non-Muslim indigenous
ethnic communities.
c. They are usurping the lands of the indigenous people

These myths make the community immensely vulnerable to violence at the hands of ethnic chauvinists
who claim racial superiority on the basis of being ‘sons-of-the-soil.’

These myths also partially explain why the Muslims in the BTAD were chosen as targets of vengeance
for the defeat of the Bodo candidates in the election to the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha Constituency in the
General Elections in 2014. This is one of the indisputable facts that caused the massacres in the
Kokrajhar and Baksa Districts in May 2014.

47
Two of the most debated articles in the national media demolishing the claims that
illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators were in any way responsible for the violence in
Kokrajhar are:
Hussain, Banajit, “Riots and the bogey of Bangladeshis,”:

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/riots-the-bogey-of-bangladeshis/article3738939.ece

Dutta, Nilim, “Myth of the Bangladeshi and the Violence in Assam,”


http://kafila.org/2012/08/16/the-myth-of-the-bangladeshi-and-violence-in-assam-
nilim-dutta.
48
Vyas, Karishma, “Ethnic Clashes in India:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFYf9VV4Gfk.
CHAPTER 3. VIOLENCE AGAINST MUSLIMS IN THE BTAD, 2012

Motorcycle borne gunmen fired at a group of Muslim youths in the Musalmanpara village of the
Bhowraguri Revenue Circle of Kokrajhar District, killing two instantly and critically injuring three
others on July 6, 2012. The CBI arrested members of the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO)
and the Koch-Rajbangshi militant outfit months later for this attack. What remains inexplicable is that
there have been no prior
incidences of the KLO carrying
out similar attacks against
Muslims, and there had been
no history of enmity or
political rivalry between the
two communities. This was
followed by a similar attack on
two former office bearers of a
Muslim student organization.
Both escaped death, even
though they were seriously
injured in the attack. The
situation escalated violence
quickly when four Bodo youths
Muslim women and children in the Amguri Relief Camp in the went into the Joypur village,
Bijni Subdivision of the Chirang District during the violence of whether with harmful intent or
2012. accidently, on the evening of
July 20, 2012. It was also the first day of the month of Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting).
Photo –may
Whatever be the
Smita actual
Dutta, course
Image of events,
copyright what is
© SRAO indisputable is that the four youths were lynched
2012
in the village and that triggered off ethnic carnage against Muslims that displaced nearly 350,000
people in the districts or Kokrajhar and Chirang.

There was retaliatory violence against Bodos too and even Bodo villagers were displaced to relief
camps. This, however, cannot distract from several facts:

1. It cannot be used to deny that the violence against the Muslims was organized and systematic,
the major spate of it sweeping across several hundred villages between July 21 and 24, 2012.

2. Majority of the displaced population is Muslims ranging between 83% to 87% of those
displaced by violence and living in relief camps after July 20, 2012. 87% of the 31,442
displaced in relief camps were Muslims as of September 1, 2012, according to official data
from the Chirang District Administration. Even though people continued to return home and
numbers in relief camps came down to 23,424 in Chirang as of September 15, 2012, the
number of displaced remained at 87%.

3. Most Bodo villagers returned to their intact homes within weeks, but Muslim villagers
lingered in these relief camps for months, sometimes without any basic aid being provided
after the initial 3 to 4 months. Unlike in earlier outbreaks of violence, almost 90% of the
displaced Muslim villagers were able to return home during the same year, despite strong
political resistance by communal and genocidal forces 49. Still, about 35,000 displaced Muslim
villagers couldnot or never be able to return home due to fear; most of them are still living in
relief camps.

Villages came under attack due to the above-mentioned lynching on July 21, 2012. The women,
children and elderly among the Bodo residents of these villages that came under attack were the first to
leave their homes and move to make-shift relief camps in schools and government buildings in nearby
Bodo majority areas. Only the able-bodied Bodo men stayed back in those villages. This not only

49
See Centre for Policy Research, Fact Finding Report:
http://www.iosworld.org/download/fact-%20finding_Baska_Assam.pdf,
surprised most Muslim villagers, who could not understand why all these Bodo villagers would leave,
but also caused alarm. Within hours, most Muslim neighbourhoods in those villages came under attack
by Bodos in broad daylight. Attacks usually began with about a dozen armed assailants with
sophisticated weapons opening incessant fire. Naturally, those Muslim villagers who were still in the
villages immediately fled. These aggressors were usually followed by bands of looters who came with
pick-up trucks and tractor trailers to carry away possessions from ransacked Muslim homes. In many
such neighborhoods, even water hand-pumps were dismantled and carried away. The looters were
followed by crowds who sprayed diesel or kerosene on the Muslim houses from pesticide dispensers
and set them on fire. Since these attacks occurred during a monsoon season in Assam, the thatched
houses soaked by heavy rain would not burn easily without being aided by diesel or kerosene. When
Bodos returned to the villages, they had mostly found their homes intact. Most Muslim homes were
vandalized and burnt to ashes.

The above narration clearly indicated that this was a well-planned attack against Muslims as is evident
from several significant facts.

Even though several hundred villages in Kokrajhar and Chirang suffered the brunt of this violence and
no less than 350,000 were displaced, deaths were very little in comparison. Less than 100 died in the
initial week, and some from police firing. No massacres like the ones during May 2014 took place.
Even though firearms were widely used by Bodo attackers, only one victim had died of gunshot
wounds. In effect, this was premeditated and controlled violence. The objective was to terrorize and
dispossess Muslims without causing huge death tolls, which would have invited an immediate
crackdown and jeopardized their plan. Their primary intent was to get the Muslim villagers driven out
and then create political obstacles preventing their return. This was proven by malicious accusations
widely reported in the media that the violence was perpetrated by the ‘Muslims and that most of them
were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’ and hence they must be prevented from returning to their
villages50.

This plan almost succeeded. It required enormous intellectual and political efforts in the national and
international media as well as relentless efforts on the ground to defeat this propaganda.

By end of October 2012, the majority of the displaced Muslim villagers were able to return to their
villages. Most of the survivors of this violence have yet to receive any government assistance to rebuild
their homes. Instead, relief camps were constructed in their native villages, in order to facilitate their
return. These relief camps were mostly makeshift tents of plastic sheets draped over bamboo frames
with appalling living conditions negotiating threat to life and security of the occupants.

Since the unrest against ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ failed to prevent the return of the enforced dispossessed
Muslims to their villages, violence was once again unleashed in a desperate attempt to keep them away.
A very strategic and tactful grand design was developed to drive away the Muslims. That why these
later attacks were not large-scale mob violence as a huge presence of security forces in the affected
areas prevented an escalation. Rather these were targeted killings of Muslims in isolated areas by Bodo
armed elements. Serial isolated killings were carried out strategically to terrorize the population. For
instance, on November 10, 2012, a Muslim villager was gunned down in broad daylight while he was
harvesting crops in his field in Maktaigaon Part 2. After two days on November 12, 2012, again
another Muslim villager was similarly gunned down in broad daylight in Bhumka area. A Muslim
teacher was fatally shot while his companion miraculously escaped even after being shot through his
mouth with a pistol at pointblank range two days later. Four members of a Muslim family were gunned
down in Ziaguri during the night of November 16, 2012.

50
Assam Violence: where it began, http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-assam-
violence-where-it-all-began-1735111,
India: Assam riots: Truth vs. Hype
http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/08/19/india-the-assam-riots-truth-vs-hype/,
What lies behind Assam Violence, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-
18993905, Bangladeshi Immigrants not responsible for violence in Assam,
http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-bangladeshi-immigrants-not-responsible-for-
assam-violence-ncm-1729270
As a response to these killings, the Assam Police raided the home of BTC Deputy Chief and top BPF
leader Mono Brahma and recovered two AK-56 rifles along with ammunition on the morning of
November 17, 201251. He was promptly arrested. Many of the other top BPF leaders and BTC
legislators were put under surveillance and stripped of their government security personnel.

The spate of killings that had started again abruptly stopped. This should have been enough to
investigate the BPF involvement behind the violence since July 2012 and the killings in November
2012. It must not be overlooked that another BPF legislator, Pradip Brahma, was arrested earlier in
August 2012 for his direct involvement in violence against Muslim villagers in his constituency of
Dotma52. The fact that the BPF was a coalition partner in the Congress party led alliance in Assam
lends credence to the accusations that at least a group within the administration tacitly aided the
violence or did not act to prevent it. Unfortunately, even though some of the major cases of violence in
2012 were handed over to the CBI, the larger conspiracy behind the violence remains uninvestigated.

Experiences show that while most of the Muslim villagers displaced by the violence in 2012 were able
to return to their villages, some will never be able to return. The places they used to live are too
perilous for their safety. For instance, 163 Muslim families displaced from Ramfalbil now live within a
relief camp in Joymaguri. They refuse to go back to Ramfalbil without adequate relief and security
provided by the state, and the government has not shown any inclination for their rehabilitation. 53
Similarly, there are 33 Muslim families displaced from Nepalpara now living in a relief camp in
Moujabari.

The villagers who returned home were not adequately compensated or properly rehabilitated. The
Government of Assam offered only a measly 50,000 rupees (about $840) to each family who lost a
home in the violence. Many families whose homes were partially damaged were not compensated nor
were reparations offered for the possessions that were looted. The government also refused to extend
compensation to any victims who did not have land titles for the land they have been living on for
decades.

More than a year after the violence had erupted, the Government of Assam notified the Deputy
Commissioners of Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri through a letter dated September 16, 2013 that a
sum of 128,700,000 rupees (about $2,177,668) has been sanctioned for only 2,574 violence affected
families to be compensated with 50,000 rupees each. The government set the condition:

“Before disbursement of the Relief Grant, it should be ensured that Affidavit have been
duly executed by the head of the family with the declaration that they will not resettle
themselves in their earlier place of residence, i.e. government khas land/village grazing
reserve/forest land etc.”

In effect, this was legitimizing dispossession of the Muslims in BTAD and giving official sanction to
ethnic cleansing in guise of bureaucratic procedures. In other state created expressing intention of
creating ‘nowhere’ persons or floating population making them more vulnerable.

As with earlier instances of large-scale violence against Muslims, it is evident that even the
perpetrators of the 2012 violence will escape largely unpunished unless judicial intervention is sought.

Culture of impunity is a phenomenal ever since Nellie massacre of 1983 for the crimes committed
against Muslims in Assam and the latest illustration is in BTAD.

51
Judicial custody for Bodo leader, kokrajhar calm
http://www.rediff.com/news/report/assam-juudicial-custody-for-bodo-leader-kokrajhar-
calm/20121119.htm
52
For details please check http://indianexpress.com/tag/pradip-kumar-brahma/
53
Dutta, Nilim, “Exiled in Their Own Land,
http://www.bodoethnicconflict.in/histories/exiled-in-their-own-land
CHAPTER 4: THE MASSACRES OF MUSLIMS IN BTAD, 2014

In the General Elections for its Parliament in May 2014, a coalition of several non-Bodo organizations
decided to challenge the political hegemony of the Bodos in the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha Constituency by
putting up their own candidate. As their common candidate, they chose Naba Sarania alias Hira Sarania
who was a leader of the militant
organization United Liberation Front of
Assam. As the Kokrajhar LSC was
reserved for Scheduled Tribe candidates,
Muslims, Adivasis or Koch-Rajbangshis
could not participate from that
constituency. Naba Sarania was an
Assamese who belonged to a Scheduled
Tribe, as his papers claimed. Even though
the Kokrajhar LSC does not include all of
the BTAD, it certainly covers most of it,
Phuleja Khatun and her daughter Saleha, survivor of leaving out only Udalguri. What is
Khagrabari massacre. She lost her son. Photo – Smita significant is that even in Kokrajhar LSC,
Dutta,© SRAO 2014 the Bodos constituted barely 30% of its
population and a similar percentage of its
electorate. With the politics of the constituency deeply polarized between Bodo and non-Bodos, victory
of the non-Bodo candidate was almost a foregone conclusion once the preponderant non-Bodo
communities, namely the Muslims, Adivasis and Koch-Rajbangshis, joined ranks. The loss of the
Kokrajhar LSC for the Bodos would be a stunning blow particularly to the BPF which has held the
constituency since its inception.

Violence had erupted even between the two principal Bodo political groups before polling that led to
the change of the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police in the Baksa District on April
24, 2014. Voting took place amidst tight security and was largely peaceful except for a few incidents.
The only major incident of violence took place in the 131 Harbhanga-Gossaigaon polling center where
Muslim villagers fought with the polling officials and police over a faulty EVM that resulted in the
death of a police constable; two INSAS rifles were snatched away. Even though the rifles were later
found abandoned, the incident would make the Muslim villagers in that area flee from their homes in
fear of the police’s vengeance. It is pertinent to note that one of the villages where a massacre took
place on the night of May 1, 2014 lies in this very area.

Apprehension of attacks against non-Bodos due to the electoral situation was a serious concern which
the Government of Assam understood. Additional security forces were deployed in many villages
where non-Bodo populations were presumed to be vulnerable to attacks. Unfortunately, much of the
attention was focused on the Kokrajhar and Chirang districts where most such attacks had taken place
in the past few years. Baksa was relatively quiet and was not given attention on the mistaken
assumption that it would remain so.

Seven Bodo youths suspected to be militants had slipped out of the Guma Reserved Forest
through Hakma Forest Village in the Gossaigaon Subdivision at little past 6 p.m. on May 1, 2014.
According to eyewitnesses, they were all wearing rucksacks on their backs and moving briskly on foot
in a northeasterly direction towards the Bodo villages of Bashbari and Barkhangbil. When these
individuals were spotted, the information was passed on to the most senior official responsible for
security in the government. On receipt of this information, the official immediately gave orders to the
Superintendent of Police to take necessary action and instructions quickly travelled down the rungs of
hierarchy. The Standard Operating Procedure to intercept them would have been to quietly cordon of
those villages they were seen heading for, seal the exits and either carry out a door-to-door search or
lay ambush for them at the possible exits. The Officer-in-Charge of the Gossaigaon Police Station,
however, did none of that and drove into those villages with a police team of five vehicles. Naturally,
the suspected militants could not be found.
The massacre at Narsingbari, Baksa district

Kasem Ali’s mother Champa Bewa, 55, was sitting


along with neighbour Ramiza Nessa and her husband
Md. Sunamia Ali at around 8 p.m. on May 1, 2014.
Four Bodo youths passed by them riding bicycles towards the east through the narrow village road.
They were residents of a remote village called Narsingbari.

The Muslim villagers sitting in Kasem Ali’s courtyard could hear the Bodo youth who had just passed
them crossing the rickety bamboo bridge over the rivulet that flows just beyond their home. Just a little
later, they heard someone coming over the bridge toward them. They recognized the same Bodo youth
who had just passed minutes earlier. They were coming back without the bicycles this time. Without
any question, the Bodo youth opened fire on the Muslim villagers sitting in the courtyard. The attack
left Champa Bewa, Ramiza Nessa and Md. Sunamia Ali instantly dead.

Champa Bewa’s two and a half year old granddaughter Taslima miraculously survived, even though
critically injured. Another injured survivor, Rashida Khatun, was the younger daughter of Ramiza
Nessa and Sunamia Ali.

The two other children of Ramiza Nessa and Md. Sunamia Ali were luckily not home which perhaps
saved them from the tragedy.

This was the first of the massacres. Less than 125 miles west of Narsingbari in Balapara Part 1, Bodo
militants struck again a few hours later, killing 8, mostly women and children.

On the next day, barely 6 miles east of Narsingbari, Bodo militants, ex-BLT cadres, ex-poachers and
government forest guards carried out the largest of the massacres in Khagrabari, which left 20 dead and
17 still missing.

Massacre at Balapara Part 1, Kokrajhar district

Around midnight, Bodo militants struck again in the same area where Bodo militants were spotted in
the Gossaigaon subdivision. A large group broke down the doors of houses of three Muslim families in
Balapara Part 1. Eight Muslim villagers died in this carnage, among them pregnant women and little
children.

Although this was not the first time such an attack had taken place in Kokrajhar, the Balapara massacre
was disturbing for several reasons. Firstly, Balapara Part 1 is barely 10 miles to the east of where
suspected Bodo militants were spotted that evening. They could have comfortably walked along the
Madati River to reach Balapara and commit this atrocity. That forces on the ground were not on alert is
evident from the fact that there is a Border Security Force camp within a mile of the site of the
massacre in the adjacent village of Balapara Part 2. The questions which naturally arise are: could this
massacre have been prevented if a cordon was laid around Bashbari and Barkhangbil to intercept and
flush out the militants? Could they have been intercepted on their way to Balapara Part 1 if the forces
on the ground toward the east, the direction they were last seen in, were alerted to watch out for such
movement? Was it just negligence on the part of the police officials in Gossaigaon or something more
disturbing?

The Khagrabari massacre, Baksa District

Another strike was carried out by Bodo militants in Baksa during the afternoon of May 2, 2014. It
occurred in the jurisdiction of the same Gobardhana police station where the Narsingbari massacre had
taken place the previous evening. It is clear that the massacre had occurred in a remote village adjacent
to the Manas National Park, which could be only reached by taking a boat across the Beki River. The
attack began at around 3:30 p.m., and it took at least a couple of hours to arrange enough boats for
security personnel to cross over. By the time forces reached the village at dusk, many people were
already dead, most of them women and little children, and the entire village had been burnt down to
ashes.
At 6:41 p.m. that evening, the Home Secretary of Assam mentioned that the army had been ordered to
stage a flag march in Narayanguri. Even though the actual massacre had taken place in NC Khagrabari,
most started referring to it as the Narayanguri massacre; Narayanguri is actually a village on the other
side of the Beki River, where the survivors had taken shelter after the carnage.

During the violence which had ensued in the BTAD in 2012, it had taken three days to deploy the
army, and by that time hundreds of villages were burnt down and many Muslim villagers had been
forced to flee. This time the army was deployed within hours. The response of both the state and the
central governments were qualitatively different, and this ensured that the violence was quickly
contained.

The survivors stated that the attack began on NC Khagrabari from the western side of the village; the
villagers fled toward the Beki River on its east. Most of the men of the village had gone to the market
in Bhangarapara across the river. Only the old, the women and the children were in their homes when
the attack took place. The Khagrabari Forest Beat office is located on the banks of the river on the
eastern edge of the village. The villagers thought that the forest guards – who are Bodos and former
members of the now disbanded BLT as well as ex-poachers – posted there would protect them. They
soon realized how wrong they were.

As the villagers had fled toward the river and on to a river island adjacent to it, the Bodo forest guards,
surrendered BLT militants, ex-poachers and some unidentified armed elements started shooting at the
villagers, turning the island into a killing field. Even those who had jumped into the river were shot at.
It became clear to survivors even as they fled that the forest guards whom they had known for years
were also perpetrators of the massacre. In the more than thirty First Information Reports filed by the
survivors, the perpetrators had all been named and many were arrested by May 3.

The range officer of the Bashbari range of the Manas National Park whose arrest was also ordered by
the Baksa deputy commissioner of police for firing on agitated villagers on the morning of May 3,
2014 and for suspected involvement in the massacre was, however, let off by the police under
contentious circumstances. With the death toll at 38, the Khagragari massacre is indisputably one of the
worst massacres of a linguistic and religious minority in recent times in India.
Considering the indisputable evidence of the direct involvement of government forest guards employed
by the BTC and the BPF in the massacre, it was untenable that the investigation could be entrusted to
the Assam police. Those who were keeping a close watch on the situation demanded that the
investigations be handed over to the National Investigative Agency (NIA). The state government
agreed to the demands and handed over the investigation of the massacres to the NIA.

Even though there were accusations that the eyewitnesses and survivors had been pressured by the
police to not include names of perpetrators, this was denied by the complainants. There was no such
pressure and many of the perpetrators were arrested by May 3, 2014. This too was in marked contrast
to earlier spates of violence against non-Bodos in the BTAD where few perpetrators had ever been
brought to justice.

Working round the clock, the survivors of the Khagrabari massacre were enabled to return to their
village by May 22, 2014.

Even though all the survivors of the Khagrabari massacre had fled the village to Bhangarpara, the other
side of the river where the temporary relief camps had been set up, a detachment of the Sashastra
Seema Bal was deployed to secure the deserted NC Khagrabari village.

On May 8, 2014, the task of protecting the village was handed over to the Assam Police and a
detachment of the Quick Reaction Team of the 4 Assam Police Battalion took interim charge and the
construction of the Khagrabari outpost began. The next day, troops from the 24 Indian Reserve
Battalion began arriving to take complete control of the situation. On May 11, 2014, the home
secretary and the Baksa Deputy Commissioner personally visited to inspect and ensure that all
problems were addressed.

On May 9, 2014, the first of the survivors of the Khagrabari massacre returned to the village.
Temporary shelters were constructed for them to live in while their homes are being rebuilt. By May
18, 2014, most of the survivors of the Khagrabari massacre returned to their village. On May 22, 2014,
the last two survivors returned home to Khagrabari. They were Phuleja Khatun and her little daughter
Saleha Khatun who survived being shot at and was undergoing treatment at the Guwahati Medical
College Hospital.

There are two important aspects that must not be overlooked in these massacres:

1. These occurred in a political environment where the anti-Muslim Hindutva political forces
were on a mercurial rise and were set to form the next government in India.

2. Even after these massacres, the myth of the victims being illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators were
sought to be spread vigorously.

That the Hindutva Right, led by Narendra Modi, has formed the new government in India now puts a
question mark on whether the victims and survivors of these massacres will get justice. The
investigations have been handed over to the NIA which is an investigating agency under the Ministry
of Home Affairs and cannot be said to be ‘independent’ of political interference.

Sarbananda Sonowal, who was once a leader of the All Assam Students’ Union which had spearheaded
the anti-Bangladeshi movement in Assam, is now the BJP President of Assam and a Minister in the
new cabinet in Delhi. On June 1, 2014, the Assam State unit of the BJP has issued an ultimatum for
illegal Bangladeshis to leave Assam within 15 days. It claimed that this had the endorsement of the
present central government under Modi.54

Considering that fact that in their definition almost all impoverished Muslims from lower Assam
districts are ‘illegal Bangladeshis,’ this does not bode well for providing justice for the survivors and
the victims of the recent massacres; security of the impoverished Muslim villagers under the current
political environment will require relentless intervention and judicial oversight.

54
FP Politics, “Leave in 15 days, BJP MPs tell ‘illegal immigrants’ in Assam,”
http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/dont-blame-the-immigrant/983114.
In a shocking order, the Gauhati High Court granted bail to ten of those arrested for the massacre who
were categorically named by the survivors to be the perpetrators on June 19, 2014. If this was not
enough, the standing counsel for the CBI, hence the government’s prosecutor in cases of violence in
the BTAD in 2012 being prosecuted by the CBI, appeared as counsel for the Khagrabari massacre
accused, ignoring a clear conflict of interest. In all likelihood, the government’s counsel did not oppose
the bail petitions; this is being looked into by the Home Secretary, who appeared to be surprised that
the bail petitions of the accused had been moved and the same was granted by the Gauhati High Court.
CHAPTER 5: FINDINGS

Ethnic cleansing has been defined as a process of systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious
groups from a given territory with the intent of making it ethnically or religiously homogeneous. The
forces applied may be various forms of forced migration (deportation, population transfer), as well
as mass murder, and intimidation55. Moreover, ethnic cleansing is usually accompanied by efforts to
remove physical and cultural evidence of the targeted group in the territory through the destruction of
homes, social centres, farms, and infrastructure, and by the desecration of monuments, cemeteries, and
places of worship56.

The United Nation’s Commission of Experts, in a report prepared in January 1993 and submitted to the
Security Council has defined ‘ethnic cleansing’ as ‘rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using
force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area’ 57.

While defining ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia, author Roger Cohen noted that ‘ethnic cleansing
–the use of the force or intimidation to remove people of a certain ethnic or religious group from an
area- was the central fact of the wars of Yugoslavia’s destruction. The practice has a method: terror. It
has a smell: the fetid misery of refugee. It has an appearance: the ruins of ravaged homes. Its purpose is
to ensure- through killing, destruction, threat and humiliation – that no return is possible’58. This
observation is aptly applicable in Assam’s BTAD.
The fact that armed groups surrounded villages, entered houses and fired upon people indiscriminately
shows the vulnerability of the Muslim population in Assam. The fact that these events were followed
by an inadequate reponse from the police and state law enforcement machinery, is indicative of the
impunity that perpetrators of ethnic cleansing enjoy in Assam.
The armed groups are willing and capable of violence on a mass scale due to their open affiliation to
the incumbent political party in BTAD and the party’s patronage of the politics of hate. In a situation
where armed groups that have surrendered are allowed to retain weapons due to political support, the
prospects for eliminating traditional hostilities between different ethnic communities are probably not
bright. There is lack of political will to bring about a lasting solution to traditional hostilities. In fact, it
is clear that the situation is being used to propagate ethnic cleansing in order to achieve a demographic
hegemony of the Bodos.

The poor state of security of the Muslims is reflected in the fact that people in large numbers fled from
their places amidst flag marches carried by armed forces to restore people’s ‘confidence’ in violence-
hit regions, particularly in Kokrajhar and Baksa. The atmosphere in these areas remains non-conducive
to the safe return of the displaced Muslims.

Key findings:

1. Ethnic conflict in BTAD is a certainty at regular intervals since 1993.The region has become
infamous for its massive internal displacement and inadequate rehabilitation policies creating

55
Ethnic Cleansing, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_cleansing
56
ibid
57
Commission of Expero in its First Interim Report of 10 February 1993, UN Doc.
S/25274: The expression ethnic cleansing it relatively new.' See also Roux, 'A propos
de la purification ethnique en Bosnie-Herzegovine', Hirodote (1992) 49. See also by
Roux, 'Lo scenario bosniaco: Pulizia etnica e spartizione territoriale', LIMES Rrvlsta
italiana & geopolitica (1/1993) 29-4, as quoted in Drazen Petrovic, Ethnic Cleansing -
An Attempt at Methodology, available at http://www.ejil.org/pdfs/5/1/1247.pdf
58
Cohen, Roger, Ethnic Cleansing, available at http://www.crimesofwar.org/a-z-
guide/ethnic-cleansing/
floating population minus livelihood guarantee and a sense of security. Each time a large number
of people are left on their own and are not able to return to their homes due to fear and lack of
security. Farmers became baggers and daily wagers. Numerous relief camps are still present in the
BTAD since 1993. Securing safety to person and property of every citizen in the country is the
paramount duty of the state. In places like BTAD of Assam, the state has consistently failed in
discharging this responsibility. The Muslim community continues to reel from terror resulting
from violence and murder against it. The current spate of violence in BTAD is the most recent
example of the pogroms against the Muslim community.

2. Right to life is a supreme human right and the Indian Constitution guarantees this right to every
citizen. Hence protection of life and liberty of Muslims in BTAD is a paramount duty of the state.
However, the state has failed to discharge this duty and violated the constitutional guarantees
accorded to all Indian citizens. Those committing mass killings and ethnic cleansing of Muslims
are rarely punished and enjoy full immunity from any kind of punishment. In some cases,
authorities reluctantly arrest the criminals but these are rarely prosecuted and in a majority of the
cases they are let off. Even the militants who surrender are not disarmed due to competition among
rival groups. These militant groups enjoy patronage under the incumbent political parties in
BTAD.

Preliminary investigations and eyewitness accounts of survivors have indisputably established that
some of those who had openly massacred Muslim women and children in Khagrabari were ex-BLT
militants and ex-poachers. These criminals had been ‘rehabilitated’ by alleged community
conservation NGOs working in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Manas National Park which
funded by international conservation organizations such as International Union for Conservation of
Nature, UNESCO World Heritage Center, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Wildlife Trust of
India, etc. Many of these conservation NGOs have been found to have flouted the laws against
carrying arms while camping or patrolling the Manas National Park. The nexus between these
NGOs and Bodos needs to be investigated since some of the “rehabilitated” volunteers of these
organizations were found to be directly involved in Khagrabari massacre. The Forest Department
of the Bodoland Territorial Council and the Government of Assam stands guilty of allowing this to
happen under their watch.
3. The affected people are aggrieved by the inefficient and biased role of the security forces deployed
in the area. Many reported that the violence could have been easily controlled if the security forces
intervened in time. Survivors informed that security forces failed to reach the spot in time despite
seeking help repetitively over phone and other means.

4. Each displaced family suffered huge property losses that included cattle and poultry – one of the
major sources of livelihood of area Muslims. Many lost their paddy while many are unable to
harvest their crop in the field thus facing the prospect of facing food insecurity in the days to
come.

5. The relief camps are unsafe, overcrowded, unhygienic and very humid leading to sleep deprivation
and fresh air. Healthcare is not available to those in the relief camps.

Filing FIR for each burnt houses is as always a difficult job. Only a few families could make it
with the help of some active civil society groups. The affected population is so much traumatized
and under a deep fear psychosis that even filing an FIR against the perpetrators is not an option for
them due to the fear of repercussions.

6. Accessibility and communication in the area is heavily restricted due to security fears. Livelihood
of Muslim daily wagers is at high risk as they fear hostilities and attacks.
7. The government announced compensation packages for those killed/injured or whose houses are
burnt. This compensation is woefully inadequate and incommensurate with the loss suffered by the
families.

8. The role played by the media in spreading misinformation that foreign immigrants were the one
who were attacked gave a totally false picture. Local Muslims (and not ‘illegal Bangladeshi
immigrants’) were the ones who were attacked and suffered losses.

9. There are serious threats of human trafficking, sexual exploitation of young children and women,
and elderly abuse. These crimes against the hapless Muslims continue with impunity with no
consequences for the perpetrators.
CHAPTER 5. RECOMMENDATIONS

In order to protect the life and liberty of all people in Assam, the following recommendations should be
considered by the government:

1. Appropriate judicial intervention must be brought in expeditiously in the matter of the recent
massacre in May 2014 to ensure justice for the victims and survivors through an independent
investigation by the National Investigation Agency and those found guilty must be brought
before trial and prosecution. Political affinity of the perpetrators must be discouraged and
dealt in a strong hand.

2. In addition to the above, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the supervision of Supreme
Court of India must be immediately put in place to comprehensively assess the violence that
has occurred in the BTAD since the late 1980s and ensure proper investigation, prosecution of
those found guilty. The culture of impunity must end as this is one of the most essential
requirements in preventing the recurrence of armed violence and to bring back the sense of
security among the Muslims.

3. The State must ensure adequate compensation, prevent forced eviction of the returnees to their
habitual residents, and provide housing and livelihood assistance as well as education and skill
training. A mechanism must be immediately put in place to comprehensively assess the forced
displacement of non-Bodos in the BTAD through use of systematic violence since the late
1980s and compensate and rehabilitate all of the effected within a specific time frame. The
mechanism must also monitor the displacement outside the camps and take similar actions.

4. The State must ensure that member of all communities have equal access to economic
opportunities and political power. The terms of the Memorandum of Settlement on the basis
of which the Bodo Territorial Council was created under Sixth Schedule must be completely
reviewed. There cannot be any democratic or constitutional basis for the reservation of 75% of
seats in a legislature of a specially administered region for a particular group which barely
constitutes 33% of the population. This review must also make way for electoral democracy
for local governance in the BTAD which is barred there.

5. The State must adopt immediate actions to disarm the surrendered armed groups operating in
the BTAD completely, as well as those which have ostensibly laid down arms but have
clandestinely retained a major cache of their illegal sophisticated small arms and light
weapons. Illegal weapons which have alarmingly proliferated in the area and all over Assam
must be confiscated and those guilty of holding illegal arms must be brought before a trial.
Constant monitoring system must be installed to avoid future proliferation of arms.

6. The State must adopt a long term counterinsurgency strategy in order to neutralize armed
elements and confiscate illegal weapons in order to avoid loss of innocent lives. Insurgents
operating from outside the BTAD and other districts such as Sonitpur, Karbi Anglong and
neighboring states like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and West Bengal, as well as
neighboring countries like Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh must be dealt under this
strategy. As it cannot be expected that Indian security forces could be operating in the
neighbouring countries as well, it is essential that government of these countries or entities
who have influence on the ground there are coopted into this effort. It must be put on record
that active denial of sanctuary by Bhutan and Bangladesh has been instrumental in bringing
down insurgency in India’s north-east, particularly Assam.

7. International policy makers should urge the Government of India to take measures for
protecting the lives and liberty of the Muslims, prevent their prolonged victimization through
violence and forced displacement and ensure disarming of the surrendered militants to achieve
long lasting peace.

8. International policy makers should urge the Government of India to adopt legislations and
policies to respond in situations of conflict through a comprehensive mechanism by adopting
United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and to protect minorities and
vulnerable groups like the Muslims in the BTAD.
ADDITIONAL REFERENCES :

1. Ajoy Roy, The Bodo Imbroglio, Spectrum Publication, 1995,


2. Alaka Sharma, Immigration and Assam Politics, Anjanta Publication, 1999
3. Amalendu Guha – Planter –Raj to swaraj: freedom struggle and electoral reform in
Assam 1826-1947, Indian Council of Historical Research Publication, 1977
4. Amiya Kumar Das, Assam Agony, Lancers Publication, 1982
5. Bhaumik, Subir, Troubled Periphery: Crisis of India’s North East, 2009
6. Bimal J. Deb, Dilip Kumar Lahiri, Assam Muslims: Politics and Cohesion, 1985
7. Bimal J. Deb, Ethnic Issues, Secularism and Conflict Resolution in North East Asia,
Concept Publishing Company, 2006
8. Chandana Bhattarcharjee, Ethnicity and Autonomy Movement: Case of Bodo-Kacharis of
Assam, Vikas Publishing House, 1996
9. Giren Gohain, Assam : A Burning Problem, Spectrum Publication, 1985
10. Harka Bahadur Chhetri Atreya, The Bodos in Assam- a socio-cultural study, year 2005-
2006, Towards Freedom publication, 2007
11. Hemendra Narayan, 25 years on...Nellie still haunts, 2008
12. Kasim Ali ahmed, Muslims of Assam, Eastern Book House, 2010
13. Meeta Deka – Student Movement in Assam , Vikas Publication, 1996
14. Mohini Kumar Saikia, The Assam-Muslim Relation and its Cultural Significance, 1978
15. Monirul Hussain, The Assam Movement: Class, Ideology and Identity, 1994
16. P. S Dutta – Autonomy Movements in Assam (Documents), Omsons Publication, 1993
17. Sanjib Baruah , Indian against itself, University of Pnnysylvania Press
18. Sanjib Baruah, Beyond Counter Insurgency, Oxford Publication, 2009
19. Sanjoy Hazarika , Strangers of the Mist, Penguin Publication, 1994
20. Sanjoy Hazarika, Rites of Passage, Penguin Publication, 2001
21. Sujata Miri, Communalism in Assam, 1993
22. Udayan Mishra, The Periphery Strikes Back, IIAS, Shimla, 2000
23. Yasmin Saikia, Assam and India: Fragmented Memories, CulturalIdentity, and the Tai-
Ahom
Articles and news items

1. Ahmed, Abu Sayed and Yasin Adilul, Problems of Identity, Assimilation and Nation Building: A
case study of Muslims in Assam

2. Bodoland Violence 2012, available at:


http://twocircles.net/Special_Reports/bodoland_violence_2012.html#.VB5yZZSSzYY

3. Frontline, Assam: Communal inferno, 7 November 2008

4. Goswami, Homeswar and Saikia, Migration to Assam, 1951-1991, Omio Kumar Das Institute

5. Jane Wilson, Turmoil in Assam, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 1992

6. Kimura, Makiko, Collective Memory of Violence : Ethnicity and Opinion in the Narratives on
the Nellie formation in the Brahmaputra Valley and Barak valley, Proceeding of North East
India History Association, Shilong

7. Kimura, Makiko, Role of Media in settling the Immigration Problem (in Dimension of
displaced People in North East India), Regency Publication , 2002Mahanirban Calcutta
Research Group (MCRG), A status report on displacement in Assam and Manipur:
http://www.mcrg.ac.in/pp12.pdf, February 2007

8. Muslims under Siege in Assam, available at


http://twocircles.net/special_reports/muslims_under_siege_assam.html#.VB5zEZSSzYY

9. Myron Weiner , The Political Demography of Assam’s Anti-Immigrant Movement’, Population


and Developmental Review 9, No 2, 1983

10. Nellie Massacre 1983, TCN Publication, available at:


http://twocircles.net/special_reports/nellie_1983.html#.VB5w25SSzYY

11. Riot Relief Camps in Assam, available at:


http://twocircles.net/Special%20Reports/tcn_special_series_riot_relief_camps_assam.html#.V
B5yxZSSzYY

12. Udayan Mishra, Immigration and Identity transformation in Assam, Economic and Political
Weekly, 1999

About Nilim Dutta:

This report is based on extensive input by human rights activist Mr. Nilim Dutta. Mr. Dutta serves as
the Executive Director of the Strategic Research & Analysis Organisation, an independent research
organization that works on core issues of ethnic conflicts, strategic security, counterinsurgency and
governance in areas of conflict.

Mr. Dutta also serves as the Chairman of the Unified People’s Movement, which is a growing political
movement in India to restore and protect the constitutional rights of all, particularly those who have
suffered from the political violence and systematic deprivation of their civil liberties. As Chairman of
the Unified People’s Movement, Mr. Dutta monitors the security of the vulnerable non-Bodo
populations within the BTAD as part of his day-to-day responsibility and seeks intervention from the
government agencies when necessary. It is also among his official responsibilities to interact with
senior officials in the government and security establishments on a daily basis to protect vulnerable
lives in the BTAD.