It’s all about land | india | Hindustan Times
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It’s all about land

A Bodo youth was caught on Thursday night trying to steal a goat from the immigrant Muslim dominated village of Mohanpur in Udalguri district, reports Digambar Patowary.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2008 23:46 IST
Digambar Patowary

It all started over a goat.

A Bodo youth was caught on Thursday night trying to steal a goat from the immigrant Muslim dominated village of Mohanpur in Udalguri district, 100 km north of Guwahati. When he returned to his village badly thrashed, his compatriots decided they had to retaliate.

By Friday afternoon, a Muslim was found murdered close to the deputy commissioner’s office in Udalguri town. Thereafter for both communities there was no looking back, as violence engulfed the neighbouring districts of Darrang and Baska as well.

Thousands, specially women and children fled to Mangaldoi, the headquarters of Darrang district, where relief camps have been set up on the outskirts.

“Four people were killed before my eyes,” said Basanti Boro, 30, who has sought shelter at a relief camp set up at Mudoibari High School. “They were not even Bodos, but Garo tribals.” She collapsed into tears. “We have become homeless in our own land.”

“The immigrants want to grab our land,” said Sukaran Boro of Tiyajhar village. He has sent his family to a relief camp but stayed back to guard his property.

Land is indeed the key to the conflict that has persisted for several decades. The first Muslim immigrants — from East Bengal — began arriving in this region – as in most of Assam – in the late 19th century, encouraged by the British, who wanted to increase the volume of cultivation in the area. They cultivated inferior lands other peasants would not touch and made them bloom.

But they continued to pour in even after East Pakistan – later called Bangladesh – became a separate country, and it was no longer legal to do so. They still haven’t stopped. With no more land available, they have used a variety of means to entrench themselves, even infiltrating into the tribal belts and blocks – created by the government to prevent tribal land alienation.

Not surprisingly during the agitation for a separate Bodo state within the Indian union in the 1980s and 1990s, there were repeated clashes between the Bodos and the immigrants, the former resenting their very presence.

The present round of tension began in August this year when Assamese students led by the All Assam Students Union began a drive in the area to identify and remove illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Events took a nasty turn when 12 immigrant Muslim labourers went missing. Ten bodies were later recovered.