Assam riots: Check on migrants the only way out
The riot hit districts of Assam are slowly limping back to normalcy… Over 50 people were killed and more than four lakh displaced in recent violence in Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Chirang districts.
Refugee camps are still ‘home’ for most of the displaced, who took shelter there to save their lives during the riots.
For more than a decade, the local community (Bodos) and illegal immigrants (Bangladeshi Muslims) have been fighting and spilling blood on the issue of ownership of land.
In October 1993, 50 people lost their lives in Bongaigaon district in a similar ethnic clash. Time and again the issue keeps cropping up leaving behind a trail of bloodbath.
The state is already in a vulnerable situation with economy in tatters and militancy continuing unabated. The recent riots have only added to the woes.
What’s ironical is that the state needed a massive loss of lives to bring national focus on its pitiable state.
Mud-slinging and politicisation of the issue is not going to be of any help to the poor and the displaced. The family of those who died in the riots need relief, and a long-term solution to the problem (of safety and development). For that to happen, the reason fuelling the clashes needs to be addressed.
The root cause is: displacement of locals (Bodos) from their lands by infiltrators.
Veteran BJP leader LK Advani, on his visit to the state after the conflict, said the violence in Kokrajhar and neighbouring districts in Assam should not be portrayed as a ‘Hindu-Muslim’ conflict. It is rather a conflict between Indians and foreigners (who illegally infiltrate the borders), he stated.
The borders of Assam have been prone to infiltration for long. What was witnessed in the state recently was a time bomb waiting to go off. On and off it has been claiming lives. It has become a fight between the original inhabitants of Assam and the people migrating illegally from Bangladesh - a fight to save one’s own land from going into the hands of the foreigners.
Over the years this problem, if not ignored, was definitely not dealt with the kind of seriousness it deserved.
The number of illegal immigrants, not only in parts of Lower Assam but all over the state, is so high that it seems almost impossible to drive such a big population back to their native places. In some regions, they have become a part and parcel of the local population. The Assamese fear that one day they might become minority in their own state.
Steps need to be taken to rehabilitate the refugees and heal the wounds of the migrants (even if they are illegal) through dialogue and peaceful means. After all there has to be an end to this ethnic conflict and bloodbath.
One way out of this crisis could be to get the voter list drawn up again to determine the exact number of original inhabitants and illegal immigrants. The issue of foreign nationals is turning out to be a ‘chronic disease’ and the government needs to show strength and will power to overcome this.
But as re-listing of voters would take a long time, something needs to be done immediately like increasing troop patrol parties so that small clashes are prevented from turning into a mammoth riot.
The Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, had put the blame on delayed deployment of the Army in affected areas, which, according to him, led to the escalation of deaths and clashes. But, it is the duty of the state government first to deal with their internal problems. The local police should be well equipped so that they don’t fear for their lives while saving others. Before being moved from the Home Ministry, P Chidambaram had taken up this issue with the Defence Ministry.
Way back in 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi signed the historic Assam Accord to bring peace to the northeastern state, the people of Assam had thought that the foreigners’ issue would be resolved forever. But the failure to put a check on illegal migrants has now led to a bigger problem. At the end of the day, it is the state which is suffering and the people who are dying due to the negligence of the authorities, which could have been avoided.