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How Assam’s Black Widow group used government money to fuel an insurgency

After 17 Dimasa men were killed, their wives swore revenge, paving the way for the formation of the Black Widow group. Jewel Garlosa, its self-styled commander-in-chief, launched the fight for a separate Dimaland.

india Updated: May 29, 2017 14:39 IST
Azaan Javaid
NIA officials exposed a sophisticated network involving government officials, ‘businessmen’, private contractors, hawala operators and militants who diverted government funds to buy arms from dealers in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
NIA officials exposed a sophisticated network involving government officials, ‘businessmen’, private contractors, hawala operators and militants who diverted government funds to buy arms from dealers in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.(PTI FILE PHOTO)

The conviction of 15 members of Black Widow, a disbanded Assam-based militant outfit, has established what was well known, but kept under wraps — that government funds were being funnelled for insurgent activities in some north-eastern states.

The court ruling on May 23 details the findings of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which exposed a sophisticated network involving government officials, ‘businessmen’, private contractors, hawala operators and militants, who diverted government funds to buy arms from dealers in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

The funds were used to fuel a two-decade-long insurgency to create Dimaland,” said an NIA official.

The Birth of Black Widows

An insurgency to create Dimaland was initiated by Dimasa National Security Force (DNSF), which ceased its operations in 1995, except for Jewel Garlosa, the self-styled commander-in-chief of the group.

Garlosa — one of the 15 convicted — refused to surrender and launched Dima Halam Daogah (DHD). An ouster from DHD eight years later prompted him to form DHD (Jewel).

Opportunity provided itself to Garlosa to make major inroads in Assam. In 2003, the same year he was ousted, 17 Dimasa tribal men were abducted from Chachar district and allegedly killed by militants of Hmar’s People’s Convention–Democrats.

Widows of the 17 Dimasa men swore to avenge their husbands’ killing and began calling themselves Black Widows. Garlosa began to advocate the cause of a separate state for Dimasa tribe. He adopted the name Black Widow and stepped up violence in Cachar, NC Hills and Nagaon districts of Assam.

Funding from “Government”

There was of course one major issue that needed to be resolved — funding. Owing to the split in DHD, Garlosa knew that the only way for his Black Widow group to sustain in Assam was through a steady flow of funds.

When most of the militant groups in north-eastern states resorted to extortion, Garlosa and his second-in-command Niranjan Hojai went a step further and embedded his men in North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC), one of the main administrative bodies governing the militancy-prone Dima Hasao district in Assam.

Modus Operandi

The first step would usually start with awarding of contracts for supply of office material to private contractors who held membership of Black Widow group.

Funds meant for departments such as Social Welfare and PHED were diverted to shell companies whose dummy directors would hand over the money to individuals in Kolkata to convert the same into dollars.

The dollars would then be sent to arms dealers through hawala operators. Arms would then be brought in from Thailand using multiple routes along border states in India.

Controlling from Bangkok

The network expanded to such an extent that on November 26, 2008, when the Mumbai attacks were underway, Niranjan Hojai forced a meeting with government officials of NCHAC at the residence of the chief executive member Dipobal Hojai from Bangkok.

Niranjan, documents state, asked Dipobal to resign and paved the way for Mohit Hojai after the former was not able to meet the fund demands of DHD(J).

“If you don’t listen, you will have the same fate as Purnendu Langthasa,” shouted Niranjan on the phone while talking to Dipobal.

Purnendu Langthasa was a Congress leader murdered by militants in 2007, the year of the election which ASDC in alliance with BJP won. “ASDC had the tacit support of DHD(J),” reads the chargesheet in the case.

The Beginning of the End

A senior NIA official said that apart from stalling two major government projects — East-West Highway corridor and Broad Gauge conversion project — Black Widow, over time, became the biggest challenge to the government’s writ in Assam.

Everything seemed to go well until March 2009 when two members of the group were caught transporting diverted government funds worth Rs 1 crore in Assam.

“Intelligence agencies already had leads on government funds being diverted, but Rs 1 crore was too big a sum and alarming. That’s when the Home Ministry decided that the Black Widow group had to be stomped out completely,” said an official.

Within weeks the NIA took over the case and chose agency’s Mukesh Singh as the chief investigating officer. During the course of investigation, 15 people were arrested, including an IAS officer.

Niranjan and Garlosa, who were based out of Bangkok, were arrested when they travelled to India to overlook operations. More than 350 of its cadres surrendered in four years and in 2014, the group was finally dissolved.

Garlosa and Niranjan were released on interim bail in 2011, following which they joined the BJP and became NCHAC members but agency sources say the conviction of the two, and 13 others, is one of the most significant in NIA’s history.