India Continues to Grapple with Fallout from Assam Violence

On Saturday, heated protests over last month's Assam riots broke out in Mumbai, with demonstrators reportedly setting news vans on fire and attacking shops

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A vehicle burns on Aug. 11, 2012, at a protest in Mumbai over riots in Assam state

As India gets ready to celebrate Independence Day, the nation continues to grapple with the fallout from last month’s deadly riots in the northeastern state of Assam. On Saturday, heated protests over the violence broke out in the Azad Maidan neighborhood of Mumbai, with demonstrators reportedly setting news vans on fire and attacking shops. The unrest follows days of political sparring over the Assam riots.

Since July 20, more than 70 people have been killed in the state of Assam in clashes between Muslims and the Bodos, an ethnic group indigenous to the region. On July 20, four Bodo youths were killed, after which armed members of the Bodo community, holding their Muslim neighbors responsible, attacked in retaliation. Weeks later, bodies are still being found, and the hundreds of thousands of Muslim residents who fled to overcrowded, unsanitary camps are afraid to budge. Assam’s state government has given them until Independence Day (Aug. 15) to go home but has also said it cannot guarantee their safety, as reports of armed men roaming villages continue to trickle out of the area.

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Several Bodo organizations and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party have blamed the violence on illegal immigration from Bangladesh, an uncontrolled influx they say has long been a source of friction there. “The continuing influx has created pressure on land, and this has not only threatened the identity of the indigenous Bodos but has created lingering tension between them and the immigrants, culminating in the recent violence,” Jonomohan Muchahary, president of EX-Bodoland Liberation Tigers Welfare Association, told the Indian Express. Others, however, have said that blaming the violence on illegal migrants is a thinly veiled excuse to stoke communal tensions, a tactic they say has led to violence between regional ethnic groups and Muslims before, most notably in 1983, when over 2,000 Muslims were killed in what is known as the Nellie massacre.

After violence broke out again last month, Assam’s chief minister said the region is like “a volcano that frequently erupts.” That’s partly because there is still an overabundance of arms in the region after a 16-year uprising for an independent Bodo homeland. A peace accord was signed with the national government in 2003 that gave the Bodo community jurisdiction over four districts in the state.

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It’s also because with over 20 different tribes, Assam is an incredibly diverse part of the nation that has not been one of the beneficiaries of the fast-paced growth of the past decade, creating a sense of insecurity as the demographics of the state shift. While the state and the central government trade blame with each other for not reacting quickly enough to July’s violence, there has been little discussion about the failure of authorities at both levels to provide more jobs and basic services to residents of the physically remote state. Though Assam once enjoyed relative prosperity compared with the rest of India, its wealth has fallen off dramatically in recent years, and the state has high levels of unemployment.

That doesn’t leave a lot for the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the camps to go back to, even if the state were guaranteeing their safety. “If we go back, they will kill us,” Gobinda Bodo, a resident whose village was burned down last month, was quoted as saying in the Daily Pioneer. “The attackers have burnt my house down. I have neither received any compensation nor has the house been rebuilt. Where will I stay?”

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Mondeep Chakravorty is absoultely right. It has resulted in change of demography in many of the districts bordering Bangladesh so much so that the illegal immigrants and their descendants have been classified as king makers by reputable institutions (including the Gauhati High Court).Read more about assam demographic journey at <a href="">Assamese People and Their Culture </a>

Mondweep Chakravorty
Mondweep Chakravorty

The border between Assam and Bangladesh is extremely porous. Assam(and the North East of India) is very fertile and also rich in mineral resources. The Pakistani leadership have had harboured a desire to have Assam included into the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during the partition of India. It was due to the local leadership's efforts to maintain the unique identify of the region (home to many tribes of Tibetan Burmese descent as well as Hindus) that the region stayed in India. The local Muslims are amalgamated into the pan Assamese society - they speak Assamese and are culturally part of the society. Since before independence, Bengali speaking Muslim immigrants (called Miyas) have been coming into Assam. The original Miyas also integrated into the Assamese society. When we were young, we remember them as experts in bamboo cane handicrafts. However, after independence, hordes of illegal Muslim immigrants started moving into Assam from the neighbouring country (first East Pakistan and now Bangladesh). It started to change the demography of the region (particularly Assam). Unfortunately, the illegal immigration was encouraged to a large extent by short sighted leadership of a particular political party. They were 

losing popular support for failing to develop the region and instead started treating the immigrants as a new vote bank. 

They used unlawful means to issue them sometimes forged and at other times illegally obtained documents to pass the immigrants as Indian citizens. 

The All Assam Students Organisation lead a six year long movement to reverse the trend. It culminated in the Assam Accord of 1985.  However, non implementation of the the accord in the true spirit meant that illegal immigration still continues. 

It has resulted in change of demography in many of the districts bordering Bangladesh so much so that the illegal immigrants and their descendants have been classified as king makers by reputable institutions (including the Gauhati High Court). The immigrants are unskilled workers and they have encroached lands belonging to national parks, cultural institutions, and indigenous people. Their involvement in inciting trouble between the local populace and unskilled workers who migrated to Assam for economic reasons from the rest of India (Adivasis, and Biharis) is also suspected.They have managed to displace those workers in sectors like construction. It has been estimated that there are around 5,000,000 illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam today. As per the Indian Census figures from 1951, the Muslims in Assam constituted 24.7% and that , as per the Census figures of 2001, has jumped to 30.92%. The figures must also be noted in the context that between 1951 to 2001, the original land mass of Assam was sub divided into 5 states amp; between 1971 to 1991, the Muslim population in Assam grew by 77.42% against a national average growth of 65.47%. 

For more information, please read this very well written article


Hindu call India a secular country but they don't like people from any other religion living  in India. India is not a stable country, dozens of freedom/ independence movements (Kashmiris, Khalsas, Nagas, Bodo, Maos) are gaining strength.


An uninterrupted influx of illegal muslim immigrants is silently changing the demographic pattern of border states in north east India. Many districts in Assam and other states including even Bihar have already become muslim majority. This is a serious concern which can escalate anytime into a Kashmir like situation.


Muslims never get along with anybody.

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The apathy is striking- blaming illegal immigrants is the easy way out...the tribals had no concept of land ownership; it belonged to the community, and then cheap labour was brought in (by the British) and continued to come and settle and was given land by the government. 

Again, the way to work at this is long term unsexy solutions- strengthen borders; get the national identity card scheme going (why can't border states be priority areas?). Use it to limit illegal immigration.

And locals and your politicians please don't wait for the centre to dole out help- you are a potentially rich state- exploit your natural resources and people resources to transform....

But all this is hard work, and its so much easier to let status quo reign and stoke the fires of communalism as and when.