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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Assam: Control over land key reason for clash between Bodos, Muslims

Assam: Control over land key reason for clash between Bodos, Muslims

A primer on the continuing ethnic conflict between the indigenous Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslim settlers in western Assam.

Who are the Bodos?

Bodos are the earliest settlers of Assam belonging to the Bodo-Kachari family. They are found in areas stretching from eastern Nepal to Assam and the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. In Assam, they live mostly in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Bongaigaon, Baksa, Barpeta, Kamrup, Darrang, Udalguri and Sonitpur. Their estimated number in Assam is more than 15 lakh, of whom over 90% are Hindus.

When was Bodoland Territorial Council formed?

In 1988, Bodos started a violent campaign for a separate state with the slogan "Divide Assam 50-50". Some of them took up arms and founded outfits like the Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland with their bases in Bhutan and Bangladesh. After a series of talks with the Centre and the Assam government, BLT fighters headed by Hagrama Mohilary agreed to accept autonomy under the concept of a-state-within-a-state on February 10, 2003. This paved the way for the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council comprising Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri districts.

Who are the other ethnic groups that live in the BTC-administered districts?

Bengali-speaking Muslims and Hindus, Assamese, Rajbongshis, Ravas, Nepalis and Adivasis of Chota Nagpur origin are the other major groups who live in the region. Of them, Bengali-speaking Muslims are the most dominant.

What are chief reasons behind the rivalry between Bodos and Muslims?

Assam has seen riots between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims a number of times. Altogether 113 people died when they fought in Kokrajhar in 1994, while 64 were killed in Udalguri in 2008. The latest round of violence has so far cost 79 lives. The tussle over control of land is attributed as the main cause of enmity. Bodos say most Muslim settlers are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. On the other hand, Muslims claim that Bodos are not in a majority in the region which is enough ground for the the dissolution of the BTC. They complain that BTC provisions make it difficult for non-tribals to buy land there. Assamese-speaking Muslims, whose number is miniscule in the state, have so far remained detached from the conflict.

When did Bengali-speaking Muslims start settling in Assam ?

Muslims from erstwhile East Bengal started migrating to the plains of Assam in the late 19th century. This has not stopped even after India's partition. Bengali-speaking Muslims form 31.3% of Assam's population of 3.1 crore. Of the state's 27 districts, they dominate Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Darrang, Nagaon, Karimganj and Hailakandi.

What is the percentage of Muslim representation in assembly and Lok Sabha?

There are 28 Muslims in the 126-member state assembly. Of them, 18 belong to the Bengali Muslim-dominated All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) founded by Maulana Badaruddin Ajmal.

Who are the key players who represent Bengali-speaking Muslims and Bodos in the conflict zone?

A native of Hojai, Maulana Ajmal has emerged as the face of Muslim resistance in Assam. He runs a multi-billion perfume business stretching from India to the Gulf and Europe. He is the chief of the Jamiat's Assam unit and formed the AIUDF in 2006 to fight for the rights of the minorities. He represents Dhubri in the Lok Sabha. (Assam has 14 LS seats). The other Muslim MP belongs to the Congress. Ajmal recently came under fire after he called for the the disbandment of the BTC in the wake of riots.

A former leader of the now-disbanded BLT, Hagrama Mohilary heads the BTC as an elected chief. He has converted BLT into a political organization named the Bodoland People's Front, which is an ally of Assam's Congress-led government. He hold "inflitrators from Bangladesh" responsible for the current violence.

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