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India Panic Seizes India As A Region’s Strife Radiates

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Panic Seizes India as a Region’s Strife Radiates



BRAJAKHAL, India — Like a fever, fear has spread across India this week, from big cities like Bangalore to smaller places like Mysore, a contagion fueling a message: Run. Head home. Flee. And that is what thousands of migrants from the country’s distant northeastern states are doing, jamming into train stations in an exodus challenging the Indian ideals of tolerance and diversity.

What began as an isolated communal conflict here in the remote state of Assam, a vicious if obscure fight over land and power between Muslims and the indigenous Bodo tribe, has unexpectedly set off widespread panic among northeastern migrants who had moved to more prosperous cities for a piece of India’s rising affluence.

A swirl of unfounded rumors, spread by text messages and social media, had warned of attacks by Muslims against northeastern migrants, prompting the panic and the exodus. Indian leaders, deeply alarmed, have pleaded for calm, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared in Parliament on Friday to denounce the rumor mongering and offer reassurance to northeastern migrants.

“What is at stake is the unity and integrity of our country,” Mr. Singh said. “What is at stake is communal harmony.”

The hysteria in several of the country’s most advanced urban centers has underscored the deep roots of ethnic tensions in India, where communal conflict is usually simplified as Hindu versus Muslim, yet is often far more complex. For decades, Indian leaders have mostly managed to isolate and triangulate regional ethnic conflicts, if not always resolve them, but the public panic this week is a testament to how the old strategies may be less effective in an information age.

Last week, the central government started moving to stabilize Assam, where at least 78 people have been killed and more than 300,000 have fled their homes for refugee camps. Then Muslims staged a large, angry protest in Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, on the western coast. A wave of fear began sweeping through the migrant communities after several people from the northeast were beaten up in Pune, a city not far from Mumbai.

By Wednesday and Thursday, the exodus had begun. So many people were pouring into train stations in Bangalore and Chennai that the Railways Ministry later added special services to certain northeastern cities. By Friday, even as some of the fears eased in the biggest cities, people were leaving smaller cities, including Mysore and Mangalore.

To many northeastern migrants, the impulse to rush home — despite the trouble in Assam — is a reminder of how alienated many feel from mainstream India. The northeast, tethered to the rest of the country by a narrow finger of land, has always been neglected. Populated by a complex mosaic of ethnic groups, the seven states of the northeast have also been plagued by insurgencies and rivalries as different groups compete for power.

Here in Assam, the underlying frictions are over the control of land, immigration pressures and the fight for political power. The savagery and starkness of the violence have been startling. Of the 78 people killed, some were butchered. More than 14,000 homes have been burned. That 300,000 people are in refugee camps is remarkable; had so many people fled across sub-Saharan Africa to escape ethnic persecution, a humanitarian crisis almost certainly would have been declared.

“If we go back and they attack us again, who will save us?” asked Subla Mushary, 35, who is now living with her two teenage daughters at a camp for Bodos. “I have visited my home. There is nothing left.”

Assam, which has about 31 million people, has a long history of ethnic strife. The current violence is focused on the westernmost region of the state, which is claimed by the Bodos as their homeland. For years, Bodo insurgent groups fought for political autonomy, with some seeking statehood and others seeking an independent Bodo nation.

In 2003, India’s central government, then led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, brokered a deal in which Bodo insurgents agreed to cease their rebellions in exchange for the creation of a special autonomous region, now known as the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts. It was a formula long used by Indian leaders to subdue regional rebellions: persuade rebels to trade the power of the gun for the power of the ballot box.

Now the Bodos dominate the government overseeing the autonomous districts, even though they are not a majority, accounting for about 29 percent of a population otherwise splintered among Muslims, other indigenous tribal groups, Hindus and other native Assamese. Competition over landownership is a source of rivalry and resentment: the land rights of Muslims are tightly restricted inside the special districts, even though they constitute the region’s second-largest group, after the Bodos.

“This whole fight is about land and capturing power,” said Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, a member of Parliament and a Muslim leader in a neighboring district. “It is not a religious fight.”

These resentments exploded in July and early August, after an escalating cycle of attacks between Muslims and Bodos. Soon entire villages were being looted and burned. The authorities have made few arrests, and each side has blamed the other. The Bodos say illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh are streaming into the autonomous districts and taking over vacant land; Muslims say such claims are a smokescreen intended to disguise a Bodo campaign to drive out rightful Muslim residents in a campaign similar to so-called ethnic cleansing.

During the worst violence, the state government in Assam seemed paralyzed. One issue is that many former Bodo rebels never turned over their automatic weapons; some Muslims driven from their homes say Bodos scared them off by firing AK-47s into the air.

To visit some of the affected villages is to witness the eerie silence of lives brutally interrupted. In Brajakhal, the entire Muslim section was burned and looted, while the homes of non-Muslims were left untouched. In the nearby village of Chengdala, each side apparently attacked the other — both the Bodo and Muslim homes are destroyed, with a handful of others left standing.

Sumitra Nazary, a Bodo woman, said her elderly father was bludgeoned to death with an ax.

“He was paralyzed,” she said. “He couldn’t run away.”

It is uncertain when the people in the refugee camps will be able to return to their villages. Paramilitary units and Assam police officers have erected temporary guard posts outside many of the destroyed or looted villages, promising security.

Assam’s chief minister ordered refugees to begin returning to their homes this week, even as new violence was reported in some areas.

At the camps, life is increasingly miserable. This week, two members of the National Commission for Minorities visited the region and documented problems with sanitation, malnutrition and living conditions at different camps, particularly those inhabited by Muslims. One camp had 10 makeshift toilets for 4,300 people. At another camp, they reported, more than 6,500 people were crammed into a converted high school, including 30 pregnant women.

The scene was little different at a Muslim refugee camp created at the Srirampur R.M.E. School. More than 5,200 people were living on the grounds, crowded under the shade of trees to hide from the broiling midday sun.

Goi Mohammad Sheikh, 39, brought his wife and five children to the camp, but was returning to their village at night to protect their home. It had been looted but not burned, he said, and he and a group of other men were standing guard.

“We want to protect our houses,” he said. “In some villages, it will not be possible to go back. It is too dangerous. But we will not leave our village. If they kill us, let them kill us. How do we leave our motherland?”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/18/world/asia/panic-radiates-from-indian-state-of-assam.html?_r=1


Aug 8, 2011
Assam has more population of Muslims than Bodos yet this article is showing Muslims as victims. Also majority of Assamese Muslims are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. These people have snatched away the land and opportunities of the locals.
Assamese Muslims are different from these Bengali Muslims. They have different features and language.
The local Muslims have been untouched, it is riot between immigrants and locals. Since all the immigrants are Muslims the media has sadly portrayed it as Bodos vs Muslims, which it is not.
Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
NE crisis: India playing with fire but do we understand it?

Shubham Ghosh - One India News - Saturday, August 18, 2012, 18:12 [IST]


Seeing the current times when thousands of northeastern people are fleeing their bases from various parts of India back to their homes, one can not but help saying that this is a huge blot on India's big pride of being a democratic country. Not many have perhaps seen such mass exodus since the refugee movements during Partition or during the days when East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) was subjected to severe atrocities from those ruling in West Pakistan.

What is happening today is just the normal consequences of too many complex issues woven together. The problem is that the leaders, irrespective of their political clout and ideology, have no understanding of the actual problems. Whether be it the ruling party or the opposition, north-east is a distant entity from them and perhaps all the more a non-Indian one. It is by no means a Hindu-Muslim problem. This very thinking also shows how much colonised is our thought-process that we are just able to view any community-related issues in terms of religion.

Oversimplifying the Assam problem on the lines of 'illegal Muslim immigrants are creating all problems' will never take us anywhere. How do we define the concept of northeast as a whole? Can we call it a predominantly Hindu region? No. Can we call it a caste-based identity? No. Can we elevate its status as a part of new India which has seen the good effects of a liberalised economy? No. In fact, we still struggle to identify so many geographically-cramped northeastern states by their distinct names on the map. All of them, for us, are just Assam. This thought itself is quite disturbing.

Paradox for Indian democracy

This is quite a paradox for the world's largest democracy. Are we increasingly heading towards an exclusivist identity while the natural norm for a democracy is to strengthen an inclusivist model? While we have chosen to flaunt a secular leadership at the helm (a Brahmin, a Muslim, a Christian, a Sikh and a Dalit occupying the topmost political positions in the country), the picture is absolutely disturbing on the ground where even the slightest of provocation can result in a disaster.

What the Congress has done in exploiting immigration to make electoral gains and all, has definitely harmed the demography of Assam and created problems of tussle. But this is not the entire picture. I have two questions on this particular point.

Two questions

First, Assam can not just be defined in terms of religious homogeneity. There are Bengali Hindus, Muslim Assamese and not to forget, the tribals and also Christians. In such a glaring scenario of heterogeneity, how can one just oversimplify the problem? The immigrants who are coming from Bangladesh are doing so because of economic hardships and they can not be treated as per religion. If minority Hindus from Bangladesh are also fleeing and entering India, then what's the far-right elements' say on that?

Second, Bangladeshi immigrants have also entered West Bengal in thousands. That state has a much longer and porous boundary with Bangladesh. But we did not see such localised clashes in West Bengal like it happened in Assam. The CPI(M), which ruled West Bengal for 34 years, did not stop the exodus because it, too, had aimed political gains. Then why wasn't the problem a life-threatening one in Bengal?

Problems deeply-rooted

The origin of these problems has their roots in history. The idea of India was consolidated by the colonial masters and then by a nationalism, which was also a reaction to the prolonged colonialism. But neither the colonisers nor India's nationalism cared to include the 'distant' northeast in the Indian scheme of things.

The Britishers thought it was too backward while the Indian nationalism did not look beyond the mainland and this proved fatal in terms of linkings the 'two Indias' (mainland and northeast) by a common socio-cultural and political bond. The unevenness went on unbridged and later, creation of Bangladesh in the demographically-complex region and the beginning of the mass-exodus, added more to the woes.

There is doubt that no government in independent India has ever focussed to solve this problem and undertake the necessary steps. The Congress is criticised the more for it was in power for a larger part of the history but even the BJP, which has a limited scope of political manoeuvrability, did little to address the issue.

Even southern India had a tough time to gain an identity in the nation's power circles where, till recently, was known to be the land of the Madrasis. If mainland India has faced such a problem, then no surprise that a historically disadvantageous northeast will be facing more serious issues.

Nature of problem now changing for the worst

Till Assam, it was not a communal issue. A state with a goodwill to resolve the problem, could create a blueprint for the betterment of the northeastern people, mainly in terms of economic development of the native people. Even the issue of integrity with other smaller backward countries in the region could be taken up for there is no denying that India will continue to pay the price for its betterment and there must be a consistent policy decision to check unfavourable consequences. Just calling to throw the immigrants back is a hollow effort.

Post-Assam, the problem has started to acquire a communal colour. This is a dangerous trend. Parallels are being drawn between atrocities against Muslims in other countries like Myanmar or the recent exodus of Hindus from Pakistan. The issues of Tamils in Sri Lanka and Bhutanese refugees have also been pressing ones.

The democratic fabric of India, a state-nation more than a nation-state, is facing perhaps one of its biggest challenges after independence. If an evil intention is trying to 'utilise' the opportunity to widen the gaps among Indians by playing one minority against another by technology, it is high time that we negate it. India, can not, afford to forget what consequences the former USSR and Yugoslavia had faced.

source: http://news.oneindia.in/feature/201...ng-with-fire-do-we-understand-it-1055935.html



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