Ethnic & Political Struggles in Assam, Northeast India

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The article herein is probing into the ethnic conflicts in Assam, North Eastern State of India. Assam is fronting mammoth encounters as to illegal immigration, and the government of India decided to make a National Register of Citizens (NRC) is critically examined in the backdrop of efforts to bring peace initiations in the State. Auxiliary, this article pacts with the Bodo Accord, the peace accords signed between militants and the government; and further the article is exploring opportunities for peace and rebuilding democracy in the backdrop of relentless conflicts and ethnic clashes in the State of Assam.

  1. Introduction 

Assam is a state in India with migrants from different parts of India and the world.  Assam shares a porous border with Bangladesh, and migration from Bangladesh was a repetitive aspect from colonial to partition days, and it continued even after the formation of Bangladesh. Of the total population, it is estimated that a total of 1.10 lakhs immigrants are in Assam from foreign countries, and 56% are from Bangladesh, as per the 2011 Census. Besides immigrants from Bangladesh, there are immigrants from Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Malaysia, Maladies, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Turkey, UAE, Kazakhstan, Europeans, Africans, Americans, and Sri Lanka. Immigration from other Indian Sates to Assam is estimated at about 4.95 lakhs people. Immigration is overwhelmingly in rural areas of Assam, and that makes the issue more complicated. Along with immigration,  Assam is facing ethnic struggles and clashes which are between the ethnic groups of Bodo and Adivasi’s, Bodo and Muslims, Karbi and Kuki, Karbi and Dimarsa e.t.c claimed more than thousands of lives, and lakhs of people got displaced. 

  1. Illegal Immigration 

Illegal Immigrants are not refugees, according to Indian Law. Illegal immigrant as defined under the Citizenship Act, 1955, is defined as a foreigner who has entered into India: – (1) without a valid passport or other travel documents and such other documents or authority as may be prescribed by or under any law in that behalf; (2) with a valid passport or other travel documents and such other documents or authority as may be prescribed by or under the law in that behalf but remaining therein beyond the permitted period of time. Thus, an illegal migrant is excluded from the acquisition of citizenship through birth, registration, or naturalization.

National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register maintained by the Government of India (GOI) containing the name of certain relevant information for the identification of Indian Citizens. Assam, the first state in India where updating of the NRC, being taken up, to include the names of those persons whose name appeared in the NRC of 1951. This was the outcome of the Assam movement led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) from 1979 to 1985, and the subsequent accord they entered into with the (GOI) on August 15, 1985. Authorities under NRC are setting up detention centers and Tribunals, to decide on nationality, sparking fears of arrest, detention, or deportation in the minds of immigrants. The provisional list of Citizenship for the State of Assam excluded 4.1 million people, and most of them are Muslims who are migrated from Bangladesh. 

  1. Bodo Community & Clashes

Bodo is a group of people from four districts of Assam on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River, by the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. They are an ethnic group that speaks Tibeto- Burman language; and an ethnolinguistic group, and the largest minority group in Assam. The Bodo kingdom was at its pinnacle during the reign of the Koch King Narayanan (1540- 84). In 1832 the last Bodo kingdom in Cacher fell with the seizure by the British. Thereafter the Bodos got marginalized and subsumed and submerged under the dominant cultures. 

The All- Assam Students Union (AASU) led militant agitation, along with All Assam  Gana Sangam Parishat ( AAGSP), with a slogan of throwing out immigrants was tensed, and was targeted more against non-Assamese people, gripped the State from 1979-1985. The agitation was more against Bangladeshi immigrants, popularly known as the Asian Movement, and came to an end with signing an accord in the year 1993, and the important chapter in the accord was to consider that all the people who immigrated to Assam after 1971 would be declared as illegal. Along with the same, the most prominent ethnic struggle was for a separate state for Bodo, named Bodoland.

However, the peace accord failed in determining the territorial demarcation for Bodo Land Autonomous Council (BAC). The Peace Accord Matrix of the University of Notre Dame ranks the Bodo Land Accord implementation after 10years as 24%, notes that the accord failed. As the result, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) formed as a militant group for demanding a separate Bodo Land, by erstwhile militants, who were parties to the 1993 Peace Accord. Later, in 2003, negotiation between the State government, Central government, and Bodo Land Liberation Tigers (BLT) to the signing of a peace accord popularly known as SECOND BODO ACCORD. In the reorganization, the four districts came under the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). 

BTC is an elected body that was established in Assam according to the settlement. It came into existence immediately after the surrender of the Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BLTF). BTC has 46 executive members with a divided area of command and control by each member of the Council. The Bodoland constitutes 35% of the marginalized tribal groups including Bodos, Rabhas, Garaos, Keots, Rajbougshi, Sarania e.t.c.

BTC met with various formidable challenges, including opposition from non-bodo communities. Non-bodo communities, with a group of 18 ethnic groups, are resisting the smooth function of BTC. Further, the attempts by dominant state politics to divide bodo leadership are succeeding. The latest of these being NDFB attack carried out in 2016, known as Kokrajhar Shooting. A group of militants opened fire at a market near Kokrajhar town, and 14 people were killed and 16 were injured as a result of the attack. 

4.0 Towards an inclusive resolution.

Minorities, the local communities like tribe villagers, and immigrants in Assam fear that they are losing cultural identity, rights over land, and thereby culturally and politically subjugated. 

Hence, instead of a policy and announcements for excluding immigrants, working towards a resolution by securing them with basic rights by ensuring livelihood, and engaging and working for meaningful inclusive politics can bring a lasting peace for the state of Assam. An ingenious policy that shelters the basic rights of immigrants, and protecting the ethnic and culturally marginalized tribes, with a focus on re-settling, rehabilitating, and empowering through socio-economic policies and politics, with appropriate participation in civil administration along with a focus in violence prevention and conflict management, will bring eternal peace and harmony for the conflict-torn people of Assam. 


  1. Nisha Masih, A Crackdown in India on suspected illegal immigrants could leave millions Stateless, The Washington Post, Aug.27, 2019.
  2. John Thomas, National Register of Citizens: Assam has its own context, misrepresenting it won’t help, The Economic Times, Sep.05, 2019. 
  3. Goalpara, Assam NRC: Workers at India’s first detention camp for illegal migrants may end up there, India Today, Sep.08, 2019. 
  4. Jaiklong Basumatary, Quest for Peace in Assam –A Study of the Bodoland Movement, KW Publishers, New Delhi, 2014. 
  5. Nani Gopal Mahante, Politics of Space and Violence in Bodoland, Economic & Political Weekly, 28(23)2013 P. 52.
  6. Pathi Saika, Political Opportunities, Constraints, and Mobilizing Structures: An integrated Approach to Different Levels of Ethno-Political contention in Northeast India, India Review, 10(1) , 2011, P.28.  

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ferha Azeez

    This is indeed a very good matter to view upon. The impact the marginalized communities have in policy making is an important thing to be looked upon. More often when a community revolts violently against a cause they are termed naxals. The cause for this is to be looked upon and the issues thereafter to be dealt with care we can’t deport immigrants who have been living here for a long period of time. They have their branches spread across these communities which can’t be cut down easily, The very fact of this bodo accord one failing and then the second one being signed shows the intensity of the issue.

  2. This situation is very tricky. If people are not recognized as people, especially if the young do not grow up with hope and ambition that disintegrates society in my opinion.

    The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon face the similar situation that their children do not have any legal existence. That amounts in the feeling and to various degrees the reality of being denied a future.

    Cynthia Petrigh, “No freedom, no future: undocumented Palestinian refugees in Lebanon”, Forced Migration Review, FMR 26, August 2006. Accessed 4th of December 2019

  3. Simon Cherian

    Notable comments. Expects more!

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