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Potent mix of ethnic, religious differences

india Updated: Oct 14, 2008 02:26 IST
Rahul Karmakar

Assam’s communal cauldron has often boiled over since 1983 when over 2,000 migrant Muslims were massacred at Nellie during the Assam agitation to oust ‘foreigners’ from the state.

The migrants came into the picture again after the Babri Masjid demolition after some 200 Hindus, mostly Bengali, were butchered.

The communal clashes thereafter were more on ethnic lines – the 1996-1998 clashes between Bodos and Adivasis claimed some 500 people, the Kuki-Karbi tribal conflict through 2003-04 claimed 100 and the Hmar-Dimasa and Karbi-Dimasa clashes in 2003 and 2005 claimed some 200.

Until August this year, after a Gauhati High Court observation on Bangladeshis allegedly sparked the tribal-migrant Muslim riots, claiming over 70 people.

“No other state in India has so many disparate ethnic groups, making them easy prey for political opportunists.

Besides, the fear of demographic invasion from Bangladesh in particular keeps the society on the edge,” explains conflict management specialist Noni Gopal Mahanta, arguing there’s no alternative to accepting the reality. And the reality is, there is no dominant majority in Assam.

But various tribal groups, pushed into the interiors by migrants, are waging a war to regain land. In the case of the Bodos, the largest plains tribal group in the Northeast, it has been a long battle for a homeland.