India: Assam Riots – Truth Vs Hype

Last month clashes between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers in the Indian State of Assam broke out which led to rioting, killings and mass displacement. After almost a month the situation is yet to calm down, although the police say that they have made hundreds of arrests, and registered hundreds of complaints.

This investigative report by NDTV reveals how politicians and organisations on both sides resorted to spreading fear and exaggerated claims on the issue of illegal migration, and then used the violence to further their political ambitions.

Harini Calamur points out how the media is blowing the situation out of proportion:

There is no rioting in the NE (North Eastern India which consists of seven neighboring states), The riots are in part of one district Kokrajhar, Assam.

In search of Greener Pastures provides an insider opinion on the issue:

The truth is, only a certain part of Lower Assam is where the riots are happening; a region which is only about twenty percent of Assam, a region called Bodoland of the Bodos. The rest eighty percent of Assam is safe, as of now I would say, but if the government doesn’t open its eyes and listen to the people, much worse may come someday. The core problem of the issue, or rather, the only problem of the issue is – uncontrolled immigration.

It started way back in the 70′s, when the then ruling Congress government, under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, gave free land to many people from Bangladesh, and created settlements throughout northeastern India for them. [..] By allowing Bangladeshis to settle in northeastern India, and by providing them voter’s card to vote, Congress had ensured a permanent fix of votes, like a syringe of a concentrated dose that would act as a catalyst to their rise to power. And since then, since the last three decades, this influx of illegal Bangladeshis into Indian Territory has continued unchecked.

Some 3,000 members of AASU (All Assam Student Union) in Sivasagar district held a protest rally demanding implementation of the Assam Accord, the non-implementation of which they say has given illegal immigrants an easy way to settle in Assam. Image by Manash jyoti Dutta. Copyright Demotix (14/8/2012).

Some 3,000 members of AASU (All Assam Student Union) in Sivasagar district held a protest rally demanding implementation of the Assam Accord, the non-implementation of which they say has given illegal immigrants an easy way to settle in Assam. Image by Manash jyoti Dutta. Copyright Demotix (14/8/2012).

The blogger adds:

It is not a fault of Bangladeshis. They are just pawns of the big game. The rabbit hole goes deep down, somewhere where the core system needs to be changed and rebuilt.

And talks about how the media is exploiting the situation:

And as media continues to hype the situation, they’re ending up making matters worse. The truth as of now is – other than Bodoland, the rest of Assam and northeastern India is safe. It will be best if media focuses on Bodoland, and not brand the whole of Assam as riot-torn. The reports tell of more than 500,000 people left displaced and homeless, like a sorry tale from war torn Africa. It is all bullshit! I have been to Bodoland myself, and imagining 500,000 homeless people in Bodoland is ridiculous. The region is sparsely populated and there is no way such a massive situation can even exist.

In a guest post at Nilim Dutta, executive director of the Strategic Research and Analysis Organisation, Guwahati, busts the myth of the illegal Bangladeshis and who are responsible for the violence in Assam:

The situation has been further complicated by a ‘protest’ in Mumbai against ‘violence on Muslims in Assam’ turning into a riot or by sundry attacks as ‘retaliation’ against people from North East elsewhere in India. Thanks to either shockingly uninformed or brazenly motivated opinions being aired around incessantly, much of it in the national electronic and print media, the dominant discourse that has evolved around the issue has created three distinct perceptions:

  • First, that illegal immigration of Bengali Muslim peasants from neighbouring Bangladesh into Assam has been continuing unabated, leading to skewed demographic profiles of Assam’s districts bordering Bangladesh and thereafter, turning several adjoining districts of Assam to Muslim majority.
  • Second, that these illegal Bengali Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh have rapaciously encroached upon and occupied land belonging to the native communities, thereby creating a volatile situation for potential violence and lethal clashes between illegal immigrants and natives.
  • Third, that the ethnic clash that began between the native (Hindu) Bodos and illegal Muslim immigrants settled in Kokrajhar was a result of aggression and attack by the latter on the Bodos.

Dutta writes:

The above perceptions are, however, far from accurate. In order to understand why, it would be important to carefully re-examine how they have emerged, the inherent flaws in the assumptions and what the reality actually is.

‘Migration’ rather than ‘illegal immigration’ is largely responsible for demographic transformation.

The fact is that immigrant Bengali Muslim peasants started migrating in the decades before Partition, and independence. At the time of Partition, a substantial Bengali Muslim immigrant population chose to stay back in Assam as Indian citizens and they assimilated in the society and adopted Assamese as their language. Many of the current population are their descendants.

It is thus simplistic to assume that rampant illegal Bangladeshi immigration continues even today by taking note of census figures selectively without having the intimate insights into the complex historical processes at work leading to the demographic transformation that is underway.

Image from Bodo Leader Hagrama Mohilary’s Facebook page. Courtesy

The blogger also tells the current state of the Bodo politics and how armed groups operating in the Bodo dominated regions of Assam are demanding a separate state for the Bodos to be carved out of Assam. Read the post by Nilim Dutta for more insight.

Raja Basu at Potpourri mentions:

The riot has brought under scanner the effectives of Bodoland Territorial Council, with many people including Bodos highlighting how and why the Council has failed to achieve the objective for which it was formed.

It must be noted that Bodos have expressed their displeasure over the presence of a number of non-Bodos in that area, without showing any specific grievance on the presence of alleged illegal migrants from Bangladesh. It means that they are averse to the presence of all non-Bodos.

Nitin Pai at the Acorn opines that India needs to have a firm grip on migration issues:

The focus of India’s national approach to migration must be to manage the flows in a manner that does not undermine the already weak social capital across the country, and especially in ‘remote’ regions. [..]

A work permit system that allows Bangladeshis and others to legally work in India and travel back to their homeland is necessary. Issuing work permits and allowing state and local governments to assign limits on the number of work permit holders in their communities will be an improvement on the status quo.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.