History of hatred: Why Ulfa targets Hindi-speaking people in Assam

  • Rahul Karmakar, Hindustan Times, Guwahati
  • Updated: Jul 21, 2015 15:14 IST
Activists in Guwahati walk with the banner of Patriotic People’s Front of Assam, protesting against Ulfa militants who have targeted civilians in the state. (PTI Photo)

A week after killing two Hindi-speaking people in Tinsukia district of eastern Assam, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (Ulfa-I) has “banned” two Bhojpuri organisations in the state for daring to stand up to it.

This is yet another instance of the Ulfa faction led by Paresh Barua – it became Ulfa-I in 2013 after most top-rung leaders chose to talk peace – periodically targeting Hindi-speaking people, more specifically people from Bihar, since 2000.

But why does the group headed by the fugitive Barua do so? For ideological reasons, say conflict specialists.

Ulfa was born in 1979 with the agenda of seceding from “occupational India”, a term the group uses to imply that power in New Delhi changed hands from one set of colonists (British) to another (the so-called Hindi lobby) after independence.

Like other militant groups in the northeast, Ulfa considers Hindi-speaking people in the region as representatives of so-called “colonial New Delhi”. All settlers and visitors from western, northern and central India are bracketed as “Hindi-speakers”.

Since a majority of such people in Assam are from Bihar, Bhojpuri-speakers are invariably the targets of Ulfa’s violence to drive home a secessionist message.

“The Ulfa came under the influence of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and jihadi groups while operating out of Bangladesh in the 1990s, and it changed its strategy to targeting Hindi speakers,” said former Assam Police chief GM Srivastava.

In 2000, the group killed more than 100 Bihari-origin people in a sudden burst of violence that was allegedly orchestrated to create space for Bangladeshi migrants, who over the decades took over menial jobs from Bhojpuri-speaking people. Major attacks on Hindi-speakers followed in 2003 and 2007.

The 2003 attacks were in retaliation to the reported victimisation of Assamese people travelling in trains through Bihar, the Ulfa had claimed.

“Very few in Assam subscribe to the Ulfa-I’s agenda of killing or driving Hindi-speakers out of Assam, and of seceding from India. This is evident from public demonstrations against and condemnation of the outfit’s attacks on Hindi-speakers from time to time,” said a spokesperson of the Patriotic People’s Front of Assam.

The Front last week protested the July 14 killing of Nandalal Sahu, 65, and his daughter Kajal Sahu, 21, in Bijuliban village of Tinsukia district by Ulfa-I rebels.

In a statement issued on Monday night, Ulfa-I publicity secretary Arunodoi Asom announced a “ban” on the All Assam Bhojpuri Parishad and the All Assam Bhojpuri Yuba Chatra Parishad for criticising the group.

“These two organisations will be considered illegal and undesired from now...Bhojpuri and Hindi-speaking communities who want to assimilate with the Assamese community should maintain a safe distance from these two organisations and not attempt to play with the emotions of the indigenous people of the state,” Ulfa-I said in a statement.

Earlier, Barua said he had no knowledge of the involvement of his men in the killing of Sahu and his daughter, and blamed state police chief Khagen Sarma for instigating Hindi-speakers against his group.

Sarma said security forces had identified three people – Kalia, Udai and Jon – as the killers of Sahu and his daughter and were searching for them.

Read:Two killed in Ulfa attack targeting Hindi-speakers

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