Setting of Assam

India’s northeast, comprising seven states, is home to more than 200 tribes and ethnic groups and is circled by China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.  More than 90% of the Indian tribal population is in the Northeastern states. Assam, bigger among the Northeastern states, is home to more than 30 major traditional tribal communities.

Assam with its capital at Guwahati, is located south of the eastern Himalayas. It comprises the Brahmaputra and the Barak river valleys along with the Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills with an area of 30,285 square miles (78,438 km²). Assam is surrounded by six of the other Seven Sister States: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. These states are connected to the rest of India via a narrow strip in West Bengal called the Siliguri Corridor or “Chicken’s Neck”. Assam also shares international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh;

Assam was known as Pragjyotisha in the Mahabharata; and Kamarupa in the 1st millennium. Shans (who are Tai ethnic group – Tai being a community of China) constolled this from 13th to almost 19th century.  Ha-Sam (the land of the Shams or Shans) became Assam which ultimately took the Sanskritized form Asama, meaning ‘unequalled, peerless or uneven’. British took control of  the region following the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824-1826.  The British province after 1838 and the Indian state after 1947 came to be known as Assam. On 27 February 2006, the Government of Assam started a process to change the name of the state to Asom or Axom a controversial move that has been opposed by the people and political organizations.

Major religions are Hinduism (64.9%), and Islam (30.9%). Others include Christianity (3.7%), Sikhism (1%),Animism, Buddhism (Khamti, Phake, Aiton etc. communities).

Assam has many ethnic groups and the People of India project has studied 115 of these. Out of which 79 (69%) identify themselves regionally, 22 (19%) locally, and 3 trans-nationally. The earliest settlers were Austroasiatic, followed by Tibeto-Burman, Indo-Aryan speakers, and Kradai speakers. Forty-five languages are spoken by different communities, including three major language families: Austroasiatic (5), Sino-Tibetan (24) and Indo-European (12). Three of the spoken languages do not fall in these families. There is a high degree of bilingualism.

Total population of Assam was 26.66 million with 4.91 million households in 2001. Higher population concentration was recorded in the districts of Kamrup, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Barpeta, Dhubri, Darang and Cachar. Assam’s population was estimated at 28.67 million in 2006 and at 30.57 million by 2011, 34.18 million by 2021 and 35.60 million by 2026.

In 2001, the census recorded literacy in Assam at 63.3% with male literacy at 71.3% and female at 54.6%. Urbanisation rate was recorded at 12.9%. There are 27 districts, 219 blocks, 2489 panchayats and 26312 villages. There are 126 assembly segments and 14 parliamentary constituencies. 

Growth of population in Assam has experienced a very high trajectory since the mid-decades of the 20th century. Population grew steadily from 3.29 million in 1901 to 6.70 million in 1941, while it has increased unprecedentedly to 14.63 million in 1971 and 22.41 million in 1991 to reach the present level of 26million.The growth in the western and southern districts was of extreme high in nature mostly attributable to rapid influx of population from the then East Pakistan or Bangladesh.

In 1978 the member of the Lok Sabha, Hiralal Patwari, died necessitating a by-election in the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha Constituency. During the process of the election it was noticed that the electorate had grown phenomenally. AASU demanded that the elections be postponed till the names of foreign nationals are deleted from the electoral rolls, and the Assam Agitation was born.

The Assam Agitation (or Assam Movement) was directed against illegal immigrants in Assam between 1979 and 1985. It is regarded as one of the most vibrant democratic mass movements of independent India. The movement, led by All Assam Students Union and the ‘All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad’, set an agitational program to compel the government to identify and expel the illegal immigrants. The agitational programs were largely non-violent, but there were incidents of acute violence, like the Nellie massacre. The agitational program ended in 1985 following the Assam Accord that was signed between the agitation leaders and the Government of India. The agitation leaders formed a political party, Asom Gana Parishad, which came to power in the state of Assam in the Assembly elections of 1985 and later in 1996.

The post 1970s experienced the growth of armed separatist groups like United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Regional autonomy has been ensured for Bodos in Bodoland Territorial Council Areas (BTCA) and for the Karbis in Karbi Anglong after agitation of the communities. As the situation in Assam has turned very serious as communal clashes continue in two central districts of the state, namely Udalguri and Darrang.

In the Karbi Anglong district, the majority Karbis and Dimasas have been engaged in a bitter turf war for many years. Armed militants of both tribes attacking rival community members. The outlawed United Democratic People’s Solidarity (UPDS), a rebel group fighting for a Karbi tribal homeland, and the Dima Halom Daoga (DHD), a militant group fighting for a Dimasa homeland, are  behind the recent attacks. Maoist organizations are suspected to

Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) is a Separatist organization founded around 1996 in the eastern Indian state of Assam. It is a part of the All Muslim United Liberation Forum of Assam (AMULFA), and Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA) is a sister organization under the AMULFA umbrella. It is alleged that MULTA is supported by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

The Government of India accuses ULFA of maintaining links with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and the DGFI of Bangladesh, and waging a proxy war on their behalf against India. The outlawed group was said to be looking to China for shelter following mounting pressure from both Burma and Bangladesh, in turn pressured by India.

Bodoland is an area located in the north bank of Brahmaputra river in the state of Assam, by the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh; inhabited predominantly by Bodo language speaking ethnic group. Currently the hypothetical map of Bodoland includes the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) administered by the non-autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). The map of Bodoland overlaps with the districts of Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri in the state of Assam. The Bodos, a primitive tribe who are mostly either Hindus or Christians, account for about 10 percent of Assam’s 26 million people and live in the western and northern parts of the state.

The National Democratic Front of Bodoland, also known as NDFB or the Bodo Security Force, is a terrorist outfit which seeks to obtain a sovereign Bodoland for the Bodo people in Assam, India. The founder of the organization, Ransaigra Nabla Daimary, alias Ranjan Daimary has been arrested and detained by Indian authorities. Though NDF advocates sovereignty for Bodos, however, majority of its members are Christians, who themselves do not represent majority indigenous Bodos. Bodos use Devanagari script as medium of writing, but NDFB promotes Roman Script to suite their agenda. The NDFB is primarly comprised of Christians who prefer the Roman script. NDFB have committed scores of incidents of violence like murders, bomb explosions, kidnapping for ransom etc. which have had a serious bearing on the law and order situation of the state [Global Security].

Bodo Liberation Tigers Force (BLTF), also called Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), was an armed group operating in the Bodo dominated regions of Assam which demanded a separate state for the Bodos to be carved out of Assam. The organization came into being on June 18, 1996 under the leadership of Prem Singh Brahma. The leaders of the BLT, together with the leaders of All Bodo Students’ Union, formed a political party called BPPF.

BW claims to fight for safeguarding the identity of the Dimasa tribe. Its declared objective is to create a separate homeland, within the Constitution of India, for the Dimasa tribe comprising the Dimasa-dominated areas such as the North Cachar Hills (NC Hills), Cachar and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam and parts of the Dimapur district in Nagaland.

All 27 Districts of the State reported militant activity in 2009, with the Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills Districts being the worst affected. In terms of activity, the Black Widow(BW) was the most effective outfit in 2009, with ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) following close behind. The Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front KLNLF and the All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA) remained the principal peripheral militant groups. Further, the ethnic clash between the Zeme Naga (supported by the Nagaland-based NSCN-IM) and Dimasa (backed by the BW) tribes claimed the life of 43 civilians (according to the SATP database) in the North Cachar Hills District in 2009. However, the surrender of a large number of BW militants in the second half of 2009 provided some respite in this troubled District.

The big story emerging from Assam in 2009 is the disarray of among the most important militant groups operating in the State. Augmenting counter-terrorism co-operation between India and Bangladesh has created panic among these outfits, who had long taken their safe havens and state support in Bangladesh for granted. With the latest arrests and handing over to Indian authorities of militant leaders like Shashadhar Choudhury, Chitrabhan Hazarika, Arabinda Rajkhowa and Raju Barua, who have led a lethal terrorist campaign for the last 30 years, the arrest of at least 494 militants and 732 surrenders during 2009, along with some of the leading militant groups such as BW and UPDS seeking to enter a negotiation process, there have certainly been watershed changes in the State. It remains to be seen whether the Government will display the necessary wisdom to consolidate these advantages, or will waste them through ill-conceived initiatives or a lapse into complacence.

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