Gory Attacks On Tribals Dismal Failure Of Intelligence
In the Brahmaputra valley, the caste Hindu Assamese had consolidated their control and soon Assam was controlled by the Upper caste Hindus, with the Tribals at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. In the south of Assam, there were several tribal majority states, Garo Hills where the Garo tribe was in majority
Bodo militants launched fresh attacks in Assam killing around 70 Adivasi people on December 24. At least 37 people were killed in Sonitpur district, 25 in Kokrajhar and three in Chirang district after heavily armed militants allegedly belonging to the Songbijit faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) swooped down on remote Adivasi villages of the three districts. To understand the recent attacks by the cadres of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, we must go back into the history of Assam. The territory that we now call Assam and the other Tribal states of Northeast India was inhabited by successive migrations of Mongoloid people who migrated from China over a period of several thousand years. The Mongoloid peoples migrated from China in waves and occupied Japan, South East Asia, what is today Burma, Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Indonesia Northeast of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim.
In Northeast India, the Mongoloid peoples inhabited Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Bhutan. In Assam there were different tribes. The main tribes who settled in the Brahmaputra valley were the Boro Kacharis, Chutiyas, Borahis, Morans, Rajbongshis, Mishing, Lalungs and while in the hills they were Garos, Khasis, Jaintias, Dimasa Kacharis, Mikirs or Karbis, Mizos and Nagas. In Arunachal Pradesh there were several tribes. All these tribes had their own animistic religions, distinctive language and culture.
In Assam, there was a migration of caste Hindus from the Gangetic Valley. This was during a prehistorical period and there are no historical records for this migration. This migration however must have taken place. The caste Hindu Assamese must have originated because of the intermarriage between the Plains Tribes of Assam and the caste Hindus who migrated from the Gangetic valley. In eastern Assam, in the thirteenth century, there was a migration of some Shans from eastern Burma into what is now Upper Assam. The indigenous tribes who lived in Upper Assam were the Morans, Chutiyas and Borahis. The Shans settled in Upper Assam after defeating the local rulers and freely intermarried with the indigenous tribes like the Morans, Borahis and Chutiyas. The resultant amalgam was called Ahom later. The Shans who came from Burma were Buddhists, converted by the emissaries of the great King Ashoka who embraced Buddhism and sent it to the whole of East Asia, South East Asia and Sri Lanka. In the fourteenth century the Ahom king embraced Hinduism and a sizeable section of Ahoms became Hindus.
In the twelfth century, when the Slave Kings were ruling in Delhi, a Muslim army was sent to Assam. A Hindu king was ruling in Kamrup who defeated the Muslim army of the Slave kings and they retreated from Assam. During this process a small number of Assamese caste Hindu people were converted to Islam, which gave rise to the Assamese Muslim Community. Still later during the Mughal rule in Delhi yet another army and also a flotilla of boats were sent into Assam. This time the Muslim army succeeded in reaching Upper Assam, but they were again defeated by a resolute Ahom general. A small minority of Upper Assam people were again converted to Islam.
The picture in Assam when the British first came to the Brahmaputra valley was a major Hindu community who had their own patron saint, Shankardev who had given his minor variation of Hinduism to the Assamese caste Hindus, Assamese Muslims and several small groups of tribals, the Bodo Cacharis, Borahis, Morans, Chutiyas, Mech, Miri, Sonowal Cachari, Koch Rajbongshis, Deoris, Rabhas and Tiwas, each with their respective animistic religion. The Ahoms in Upper Assam were actually an amalgam of the Shans from Burma and the Morans and Borahis who lived in Upper Assam.
The British came in to Assam from East Bengal through the Khasi Hills. They had occupied Lower Assam, when the Burmese invaded Upper Assam. The Ahom king fled to Cachar where the British had consolidated and asked for help. The British then sent a small army to Upper Assam who defeated the Burmese army. The British consolidated their hold over the whole of Assam.
In the Brahmaputra valley, the caste Hindu Assamese had consolidated their control and soon Assam was controlled by the Upper caste Hindus, with the Tribals at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. In the south of Assam, there were several tribal majority states, Garo Hills where the Garo tribe was in majority, Khasi and Jaintia Hills where the Khasis and Jaintias were in a majority, Mikir Hills where the Mikirs were in a complete majority, North Cachar Hills where the Dimasa Cachari was in total majority, the Naga Hills where thirty odd tribes of the Nagas were in a total majority, the Mizo Hills where the Mizo was the dominant tribe. There were also some Brus. The Mizos were all converted to Christianity by the British missionaries as also the majority of the Naga tribes. One tribe, the Zeliang are still animist. In fact the hill districts of Assam were completely tribal. In the north and east was Arunachal Pradesh, then called North-East Frontier Agency which was completely tribal.
The British as they consolidated their hold, through the East India Company, found that tea grows well in Assam. They immediately decided to set up tea gardens and accordingly framed land revenue laws to facilitate the establishment of tea estates. As these were being processed, the British found that the local Assamese people were not willing or suitable to work in tea estates. This was because the Assamese peasant cultivated paddy and this required attention in ploughing, transplanting and harvesting. The tea gardens required a captive labour group who would look after the tea bushes throughout the year. In fact each tea garden had to have its captive labour living on its premises. The British then decided to import labour from outside the state so that each tea garden would have its captive labour. They found that the original inhabitants of the forests in India, the Adivasis would be ideal as the majority of Adivasis lived in reserved forests as hunter gatherers. The British soon arranged for transporting thousands of Adivasis from Central India and the Tea Garden owners selected them from Guwahati where they were brought by train and settled them in their tea gardens. The largest number of tea gardens was located in Nowgong, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Darrang, Tezpur and North Lakhimpur districts of Assam. The Adivasis soon came to be called as tea garden labour.
The Adivasis had smoothly adjusted themselves into the landscape of Assam. When India became independent, the Adivasis were classified as Scheduled Tribes along with the other Scheduled Tribes of Assam. Initially there was no clash of interests between the indigenous Assamese tribes and the Adivasis. In the tea gardens, the Adivasi labour worked looking after the tea bushes. A few of them however cultivated paddy in isolated patches of land in the tea garden area. Gradually, some of the Adivasis managed to buy small plots of land adjacent to the tea gardens and began cultivating paddy in these patches of land. This was a natural phenomenon, as the Adivasis were brought to work on the tea gardens. After some years they were bound to expand beyond the Tea Garden campus. This was not a major problem in the major Tea Garden districts like Dibrugarh, Jorhat, North Lakhimpur, and Nowgong. However, in the Boro Cachari dominated districts of Tezpur, Darrang and Goalpara the tea garden Tribes were not acceptable to the Boro Kacharis.
After independence, the Congress party secured the loyalty of the Adivasis working in the Tea Gardens and the community became a vote bank for the Congress. Initially there was no trouble between the Scheduled tribes of Assam like the Boros and the immigrant Muslim farmers. Trouble actually started between the Boros and the immigrant Bengali Muslims who were brought in by the British when they found that the Bengali Muslims from East Bengal were much better cultivators of paddy than the Assamese farmer, whether he was a caste Hindu or a tribal. In fact the root of this problem was with the British, who finding the average Assamese cultivator a poor second to the immigrant Bengali Muslim cultivator, allowed the Bengali Muslim cultivators to migrate into the Brahmaputra valley as there were at that time vast areas of paddy land lying unused. The British however soon found that they had made a mistake by allowing the Bengali Muslim peasants from East Bengal to migrate into the Brahmaputra valley. The Bengali Muslim cultivator was a demon at cultivating paddy and he simply beat out the Assamese caste Hindu or tribal peasant.
This is something that I can vouch for. I had opted for the Assam cadre when I joined the Indian Police Service. I first went to Jorhat in late 1966 and did not see or know about the Bengali Muslim peasant. After probation I was posted in Hojai, a small town in Central Assam. This Sub Division had an eighty percent immigrant Muslim population. I found the small built wiry Bengali Muslim peasant to be extremely hardworking and with enormous stamina. I was amazed to see a peasant family of a wiry husband, with two or three wives and a couple of children ploughing and weeding paddy fields in the hot sun from sunrise to well into sunset, and sometimes weeding paddy fields with lanterns well after sunset. I found that their food was simply rice gruel with some fried dried fish and chillies. Their harvest was at least one and a half times more than the harvest from an Assamese Hindu farmer.
What had been started by the British Government of allowing the Bengali Muslim peasant from East Bengal to migrate and settle in the Brahmaputra valley soon became a flood. The British found that the tribes particularly the Boro Kachari and the Tiwa were losing ground in competition with the immigrant Bengali Muslim peasants. The British Government then devised a system of declaring areas in cultivable land that were meant for the Assamese Hindus, Bengali Muslims and the tribals. Thus in the Land Revenue jargon, terms like the Caste Hindu belt, Bengali Muslim belt and the Tribal belt appeared. Lands from each block could not be transferred to either of the two other blocks. However, this was soon caught up in the corruption network that soon engulfed the revenue administration of Assam. In this melee for agricultural land it was the Tribal who mainly suffered. He soon found that the Bengali Muslim immigrants from East Bengal were bribing the petty officials of the revenue administration in the districts and getting their lands from the Tribal block transferred to the immigrant Bengali Muslim. The caste Hindu, Bengali Muslim and Tribal block system thus did not work out on the ground.
After India became independent, the situation only further worsened as soon corruption became a by word in district administration. The Congress party in Delhi considerably worsened the degree of corruption in Government when they enforced the Emergency on the country in 1975. In fact the situation has only kept worsening with each election that brought the Congress party to power. We may now pause a bit and go back to the time in 1971 when East Pakistan was liberated from Pakistan and a new country Bangladesh was born.
When India had got independence, the Indian Government had legislated an act called the Indian Citizenship Act in 1955, that stated that people who had crossed over from East Pakistan and West Pakistan when independence was declared from 15 August 1947, into India should apply for citizenship before 26 January 1950. This was done as independence was announced with the partition of India between India and Pakistan. Since the announcement of independence and partition was at short notice, Hindus and Sikhs who wanted to cross from West Pakistan to India and Hindus who wanted to cross from East Pakistan to India did not have time for applying for crossing over to India. On application the Indian Government verified the transfer from West Pakistan and East Pakistan from entries in the Refugee registers maintained in the Refugee camps.
The situation when there was a revolt by the Bengali Muslims in East Pakistan against West Pakistan in 1971 was different from the independence of India and Pakistan. The Pakistan Army clamped down on the Bengali Muslims who wanted to be independent from Pakistan. The revolt lasted for an year and culminated in a war between India and Pakistan in which East Pakistan was liberated after the Pakistan Army surrendered in East Pakistan. After Bangladesh was liberated it’s revolutionary leader who had led the revolt against Pakistan and had been arrested and incarcerated in a Military prison in Pakistan was released and sent to Bangladesh. He soon came to Delhi to thank Mrs. Gandhi, India’s Prime Minister. When he met Mrs. Gandhi he requested her that a large number of people from East Pakistan had illegally migrated to India from 1947 till 1970-71. He requested Mrs. Gandhi that he would not be able to take back all these illegal migrants from East Pakistan to his new country Bangladesh. Mrs. Gandhi agreed to this. This was a serious misdemeanor on the part of India’s Prime Minister. After all the people of East Pakistan who had illegally emigrated from that country had come from some mohalla in some town or from some village from East Pakistan. If he had come illegally to India he should naturally go back to the new country of Bangladesh, to the same town or village from which he had illegally migrated earlier. Unfortunately Mrs. Gandhi agreed to this request, thereby regularising lakhs of illegal immigrants as citizens of India. Incidentally the illegal Bangladeshi immigrant became a vote bank for the Congress party.
The new country of Bangladesh had got a big gift from India. With effect from 1971, there has been continual illegal immigration from Bangladesh to India. The reasons are not far to see. The Bangladeshi cultivator is extremely hard working and his Hindu brother is not a patch on him. The illegal immigrant Bangladeshi Muslim farmer who illegally migrates to Assam, first works as a farm labour in the field of an Assamese farmer. After some time he will request his farm owner to give him a small plot of land where he could grow paddy. Very soon this small plot would produce more paddy than the owners own plot that was more than four times in area. After a few years, the original Assamese farmer would find that his tenant is now owner of more land than his own and is producing three times the paddy that he is producing. The Bangladeshi Farmer was also much more adept at bribing petty revenue officials and getting land records fudged in their favour.
Regrettably the Congress party in Delhi continually favoured the illegal immigrant Bangladeshi. Very soon the Bangladeshi peasants or workers were vote banks of the Congress party. In Delhi, verbal orders were issued to officials of the Delhi administration that any Bangladeshi who had applied for a ration card should be given this on priority. Today Delhi has several lakh Bangladeshis in menial jobs who have all become citizens of India courtesy the Congress party.
In Assam this became a very serious issue as the All Assam Students Union took up the case of the Congress party legalizing illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. When Mrs. Gandhi as India’s Prime Minister agreed to the request of the then President of Bangladesh, Mujibur Rehman to legalise all illegal immigrants from East Pakistan to India from 26 January 1950 till 25 March 1971 there was a huge protest from the All Assam Students Union (AASU). Mrs. Gandhi then enacted an Act called the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act in February 1983. This stated that the Foreigners Act would be kept in abeyance in Assam and would apply only to the rest of the country. In Assam a new act called the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act would apply. Under this act Tribunals would be set up in Assam headed by retired Judges and all cases of illegal migration from Bangladesh would be referred to these Tribunals.
It is crystal clear that you cannot have two acts for the same offence in two parts of the country. Within a month of the promulgation of this Act, in February 1983, a Member of Parliament from Assam filed a petition that this ordinance was illegal and should be struck down. It is to the everlasting shame of the Judiciary of the Supreme Court that the Honourable Supreme Court of India sat on this petition for twenty two years. This illegal and unlawful ordinance was struck down only in 2005 by a new incumbent to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice.
During this long period, the illegal immigrant from Bangladesh had been having a field day.
Meanwhile the Boro Kachari Tribals of Assam mainly living in the lower Brahmaputra valley in Bongaigaon, Barpeta and Dhubri district of Assam had been agitating for a Territorial Council for their Tribal Area. This was conceded by the Central Government and the Boro Territorial Council was created for the Boro Kacharis in the districts of Darrang, Sonitpur, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Barpeta. This notification extended the powers of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to the Boro Territorial Council Area. Under this no Tribal land can be transferred from a Tribal to a non tribal. This Act should have been passed in 1950 itself. The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is applicable in the districts of Khasi and Garo Hills, of erstwhile Assam, in the Karbi Anglong district and North Cachar Hills districts of Assam, in the Naga Hills district of Assam now Nagaland state and in Mizo Hills now a State. In all these areas, not a single bigha of Tribal land has been transferred to a non tribal in all these years. It is only in Assam that the Central politicians of the Congress have played ducks and drakes with the Tribal population.
We have had several incidents in the Boro Territorial Council area where Boro Tribals have attacked and killed illegal immigrants, Bangladeshi peasants, who have illegally migrated from Bangladesh and travelled to the Boro Territorial Council area in Bongaigaon district and settled on vacant Tribal land.
It is in this background that we have to examine the incidents that have happened in the Boro Kachari areas of Darrang district in Assam. The Adivasis who were brought by the British are Scheduled Tribes. In fact they are the oldest citizens of the sub continent of India. They were the original inhabitants of this sub continent. The Aryans who migrated into this sub-continent about eight thousand years ago were originally pastoral and took to cultivation in the many verdant river valleys that they found in India. Incidentally they had evolved the Hindu religion and its baggage of caste. They found the Adivasi inhabiting this sub-continent and promptly put him at the bottom of their caste hierarchy.
It is this Adivasi, whom the British brought to work in the tea gardens that they had set up. In Assam the Adivasi naturally constituted as a scheduled tribe. What has happened in Sonitpur district of Assam is that the Boro Kachari has resented the Adivasis from owning farm land, which they feel is their birthright. The Adivasis who were brought by the British in the 18th century and located in the tea gardens that they had set up have now increased and spilled out onto agricultural land. This has been resented by the Boro Kacharis, who as the original inhabitants of the area feel that no one else can be settled there. However you cannot deny the facts of history. The British brought the Adivasi tribals and they have to be allowed to own agricultural land in this area. Incidentally they are also Scheduled Tribes like the Boros and have equal rights as the Boro Kacharis. If the question of non transfer of agricultural land from a tribal to a non tribal is raised, there is no case for the Boro Kachari as the Adivasi is as much a tribal as the Boro.
The resentment of the Boro Cacharis against the Adivasi settling on agricultural land has been obvious for many years. Regrettably the Assam Police’s Special Branch has failed to gauge the depth of feelings of the Boro leaders. The blame for the sudden explosion of anger against the Adivasis in Sonitpur and Darrang districts is entirely that of the District Police Special Branch and the District Police starting with the Station House Officers and up the line to the Superintendents of Police and the District Special Branch, none of whom it appears were having their fingers on the pulse of the leaders of the Boro extremist groups.
There is one more significant point. Unlike the immigrant Muslim, who were continually favoured by the Congress party and allowed to settle on Tribal land, the Adivasi is a tribal like the Boro Kachari and has every right to own tribal land in Assam. There has been a cardinal failure on the part of the District Police officials, starting from the Station House Officers to the District Special Branch that they could not gauge the depth of feeling and resentment among the indigenous Boro Kacharis against the Adivasis who had settled on their farm lands.
Incidentally, when the Congress party had favoured the immigrant Bengali Muslims to settle on tribal lands and the All Assam Students Union (AASU) had started the Foreigners agitation in 1982-83, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) had gone to meet the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in Dimapur in 1983 after the infamous fraudulent election of 1983 and requested the NSCN leaders for helping them to import arms and train them in Guerilla warfare and train them to fight the Government of Assam. At that time a leading agitator from among the Boro Kacharis of Darrang was one Ranjan Daimary. He formed a group called the Boro Security Force, later renamed as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). He had also taken his cadres to Bhutan and secured a sanctuary for training his cadres in guerilla warfare. Ranjan Daimary also went to Bangladesh with the ULFA leaders and managed to get grants from the Pakistan ISI who helped him to import arms from China as the NSCN IM and the ULFA were importing arms from China. Ranjan Daimary was arrested by the Bangladesh Police and he was given in custody to Assam Police some years ago.
In the background of all the evidence available with the Assam Police, it appears that there has been a dismal failure of Intelligence in failing to intercept the attack on the Adivasi Tribals by the Boro extremist group.
By E N Rammohan
(The writer is former Director General, BSF)