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What triggered the mayhem

The whole episode was sparked off by a clash between Assamese and Bihari students on Nov 9 when candidates from Bihar were prevented from writing their recruitment tests for the Railways in Guwahati.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2003 14:26 IST

Assam has a long history of violence and the recent violence against Biharis is just another chapter of ethnic conflicts and agitations against 'foreigners' -- fuelled by the Assamese' fear of losing their identity and being dominated by outsiders. The phenomenon had reached its climax in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the notorious six-year-long anti-foreigner agitation by students and youth organisations.

However, the entire nation heaved a sigh of relief when the agitation ended in 1985 with the signing a tripartite treaty by the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) with the Centre and the State Government. But, problems did not end here. The issue of influx of Bangladeshi refugeesand settlers from other states continued to haunt the Assamese minds and hearts. The outcome: ethnicity and migration became the most crucial issues in Assamese politics.

So, nearly two decades later, the state is now back on the centrestage with an outbreak of ethnic violence.

The current mayhem was triggered by a clash between Assamese and Bihari students on November 9 when candidates from Bihar were prevented from appearing in recruitment tests of the Railways in Guwahati. This was retaliated by attacks on some Assamese passengers on trains passing through Bihar and a girl from Nagaland was allegedly gangraped. In protest against the attacks, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and several other groups called for a 24-hour statewide bandh on November 17. They demanded cent per cent reservation for the native people in all central services operating in the Northeast. This series of action and reaction finally spiralled into large-scale violence in Assam in which at least 58 Biharis were killed.

The magnitude of the violence forced the state government to call in the army and impose curfew in several areas. At one point of time, the situation threatened to go out of control. Taking advantage of the opportunity, separatist militant group ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) too launched brutal attacks on people from Bihar and issued open calls to all Hindi-speaking people to leave the state. Sensing the gravity of the situation, the Centre okayed additional forces for Assam.

All this resulted in large-scale exodus of Biharis, most of whom have been living there for decades.

But Assam is not the lone case where, perhaps, xenophobia rules. The Shiv Sena in Maharashtra holds the same view and in recent past even small states like Jharkhand have faced problems regarding domicile.

First Published: Nov 28, 2003 13:20 IST