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Assam: friction in a crucial corridor July 30, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Bangladesh, Bhutan, Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

A week ago some 48 people were killed in Assam in clashes between the Bodo ethnic group (a Tibetan-Burmese people who are now predominantly Christian and Hindu) and Muslim Bengali immigrants, mainly from Bangladesh and its previous incarnations. Approximately 400,000 have also been displaced from their villages. These are by no means the first such ethnic clashes in Assam, the most recent being between Bengalis and Bodos four years ago, which left 70 dead. The worst attacks occurred in 1983, when an estimated 2000 Bengali Muslims were killed.

Since well before the British left in 1947, Bengali Muslims have been crossing into Assam. Pushed by desperation, they often occupied the shifting char lands – dangerous but fertile flood plains of the rivers that criss-cross the region. Since independence in 1947, East Pakistanis, and later Bangladeshis, have continued to cross the poorly policed, poorly defined border. There are now an estimated 10-20 million Bangladeshis in India. But of course not all Bengali Muslims are in Assam illegally and many have been there for generations. As pointed out by the New York Times, it is well nigh impossible to distinguish between those legitimately in Assam and those who have come illegally.

Besides the devastating displacement and loss of life, ethnic unrest in Assam is important for a number of reasons.

India's North East - this version includes Sikkim