In signed statement, Prof Prabhakar Sinha, President, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and Dr V Suresh, General Secretary, PUCL, have said that the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit), whose armed squad attacked and killed more than 75 persons in Assam, is not only led by a non-Bodo but is quite unpopular among the Bodos themselves. Yet the state government has done next to nothing to curb its activities. Text of the statement:
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) strongly condemns the shooting down of unarmed tribals in and outside their homes in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts of Assam on 23rd December, 2014 by armed squad of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) or NDFB (S) faction. Reportedly, there are over 75 people killed, including scores of women and children, which largely included many Adivasis and some tribals. PUCL is deeply concerned over the outbreak of deadly, murderous attacks once again. It is apprehensive that unless the situation is handled both firmly and sensitively, a situation of mass death, destruction and displacement will once again recur as it did during the ethnic killings in mid-2012 in Kokrajhar and neighbouring districts resulting in nearly 100 people being killed and over 400,000 people fleeing their homes.
PUCL demands that the police and para-military authorities immediately ensure the safety, security and protection of lakhs of people in the districts of Kokrajhar, Sonitpur and other districts of the Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts adjoining the border areas of Assam – Bhutan. At the same time, it should be stressed that unless the roots of the conflict are addressed and resolved, such violent attacks are bound to recur.
We learn that the NDFB (S) faction itself is led by a non-Bodo and does not enjoy the support of wider sections of the Bodo people themselves. We also learn that there is great popular resentment, even amongst the Bodos, against the NDFB(S) faction due to their extortionist activities and illegal and forcible collection of taxes from all communities, including the Bodo. Despite public knowledge of such illegal activities, the state government has done nothing to curb the unlawful activities of this group which is using arms to terrorise local population. In such a situation, to cloak what is clearly criminal activities using the term `terrorist’ is to lend legitimacy to the group and give an impression as though they are pursuing a political demand.
At the heart of the Bodo conflict is the long simmering sense of frustration, anger, alienation and disaffection caused by decades of neglect and mistreatment by successive regimes, both at the state and centre, which has kept large sections of the Bodo people in a state of deprivation, impoverishment and backwardness.
There is also a perceived sense of historical injustice to the Bodos in their own homeland. The substantial influx of outsiders coming in as migrant labourers who eventually settle in the area has changed the Bodo – non Bodo population demographics. In turn this has created communal resentment and tensions which is cynically used by political forces to foster violence. This will need to be firmly put down.
The Governments, both State and Centre, should seriously initiate a major programme aimed at reassuring the Bodos of their historical identity and ensuring their inclusive development. At the same time, the governments should work to bring about greater community integration and harmony amongst different social sections in the area. Solutions cannot be found through enforcing police or military actions but only through genuine efforts at reconciliation and development which are actually seen to be implemented in the field. Equitable and inclusive development must be seen and felt to be occurring and benefiting all the communities, especially the Bodos. This can be the only sound basis for engendering communal harmony.
PUCL also calls upon all the political parties, especially the ruling Congress (I) party in Assam and the NDA at the Centre, not to indulge in games of finger pointing or apportioning blame but to work together to bring about communal harmony, reconciliation, amity and peace.