Ethnic Violence in Assam: Its Solutions

Dr. Faraz Ali Ahmed


Assam is a land of multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious society. A large number of ethnic and linguistic groups, the population composition and the peopling process in the state have led to it being called “India in miniature” .Many scholars consider it to be the melting pot of diverse races, castes, religions,  languages and culture. But diverse ethnic groups try to assert their own unique identities and this results in inter-group conflicts. Ethnic conflict is a major problem in north-east India, especially in Assam. It arises out of socio-economic conditions within political, economic structures of the country. In Indian heritage of Ahimsa (non- violence) preached by Mahatma Gandhi, the spirit of life of simplicity or ‘living lightly on earth’ has been forgotten by the present day leaders. Instead of people welfare, most leaders think only of their own good and so the process of peace and harmony among the communities is destroyed as crores of rupees sanctioned for various schemes are not spent or are misused. If land, labour, capital, culture and religion are the major sources of conflict among the human races, then liberty, equality, fraternity and economic development are effective means for resolving the conflicts.

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The people of Assam live in a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious society. They speak languages that belong to three main language groups: Indo-Aryan, Austroasiatic and Tibeto Burman. The large number of ethnic and linguistic groups, the population composition and the peopling process in the state has led to it being called an “India in miniature”. Assam is a melting pot of various ethnic tribes among which the Indo- Aryan and Austro- Mongoloid are the prominent ones.

To prepare this paper I have applied descriptive and analytical methods. In writing this paper I have taken help of secondary sources from different research articles, magazines, books, journals, news papers and internet.

The aims and objectives of this paper is how ethnic violence takes place and how to solve the problems. This paper stresses mainly in specific districts of Assam.

An ethnic group or ethnicity is a socially defined category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural or national experience. Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a share cultural heritage, ancestry, origin, myth, history, homeland, language, ideology, symbolic system such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, physical appearance, etc. In Assam each ethnic group tries to assert its own unique identities it resulted in inter-group conflicts.

The Karbi-Dimasa Conflict

The two hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills have been working in close co-operation for two decades. The Karbi tribe of Karbi  Anglong has  been living in peace with Dimasa tribe of N.C. Hills. In fact, these two were a single district till the 1950s. Even after their division into two districts, Karbi- Anglong remains the largest district of Assam and shares the distinction of being a melting pot of different cultural, religious, ethnic and linguistic groups. Most ethnic groups of Karbi Anglong belong to the Mongoloid stock. They include the Karbi, Dimasa, Garo, Khasi, Jaintia, Kuki and Rengma Naga tribes.

The Karbi-Dimasa conflict has to be situated in this context and of the tension that was built up during 2005. On many occasions during this year people resorted to violence imbued with the ideology of protecting their ethnic, religious and linguistic identities. However, many in Karbi Anglong believe that this violence resulted from a planned move to destabilize Karbi Anglong district through ethnic clashes. For example, in July, 2005 there was violence between the Biharis and the Adivasis who were living in the same village doing the same type of cultivation and most of them migrated to this area from the same place. In August 2005, the tension between the Karbis and the Khasis over the border issue was blown out of proportion both in Assam and Meghalaya. The media in both the places published inflammatory articles and controversial news reports in order to maintain an atmosphere of tension. In September, 2005 a rumour was spread in the region that three persons belonging to the Kuki community were killed by suspected Karbi militants. This incident did not take place but the rumour rocked the district.

Because of this sudden spate of violence and other incidents many in Karbi Anglong believe that the Karbi- Dimasa conflict was fabricated by elements that wanted hatred between these two tribes. The plan was executed through the killing of three persons on 26th September, 2005. Three auto drivers from Manja, belonging to the Dimasa tribe were taken to the nearby forest and were brutally killed with sharp weapons. That resulted in the Karbi Dimasa ethnic conflict which destroyed the old bond between these two tribes. Many suspect that the conflict was meant to subvert the joint demand for an autonomous state. This conflict was given a communal turn when on 1st October, 2005, a church was burnt and looted. Many suspect that it was the handiwork of a national level communal organization.

The repeated killings of the members of the so-called rival ethnic group are gradually vitiating the cordial atmosphere of concord that had existed between the two communities in the not too distant past.

The Karbi- Kuki Clashes

The conflict between the Karbi and the Kuki tribes has already taken many lives apart from burning down more than a hundred villages belonging to the two communities. The entire episode was triggered off when the terrorist outfit Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), swooped down on Thekerajan village – a cluster of Karbi hamlets in Singhason hills under Manja P.S. of Diphu sub-division on 2nd Nov, 2003, and rounded up all the villagers at gunpoint. They then mercilessly killed three of the villagers including a woman, burnt down the few houses, looted entire households besides subjecting the villagers to physical torture. On their way back, the terrorists also abducted nine youths. One of these youths somehow escaped from captivity while the decomposed bodies of two others were found days later and the fate of the rest is yet to be ascertained. In retaliation the UPDS- a militant outfit of the Karbi youths burned down a nearby Kuki village called Gangjang and also killed six Kuki persons including students and children near Manja and Diphu within a week of Thekerajan incident. There are two different groups among the Kukis in Karbi Anglong. One group that inhabits the Hamren areas is indigenous to Karbi Anglong, they are fully integrated with the local population in all respects. They are called ‘old Kuki’. The present conflict has nothing to do with the ‘old Kukis.’ The other group that is involved in the present conflict with the Karbis migrated from the neibouring states of Nagaland and Manipur during the last two decades.

In one of the worst ethnic clashes in recent times 31 people belonging to the Karbi and the Kuki tribes were killed in four separate incidents in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district in 2004. The massacre takes the death toll in the troubled hill district to over 80 since November 2004 when fighting broke out between the Kuki and the Karbi militants. Till now such clashes have been continuing in the areas.

The Bodo- Non-Bodo Conflict

The BTAD area witnesses a number of ethnic violences before and since its inception. The violence between the Bodos and the non-Bodos living in the Bodo inhabited areas has been continuing ever since the Bodo movement started in 1987. A bloody incident occurred in the 1989. At the patronage of the Assam Government, some Assamese miscreants in connivance with the Assam police forces committed massacres at Rangapara in May, Gohpur in August, 1989 under Sonitpur district, Simlaguri under Lakhimpur district, Khairabari under Darang district in August, 1989.

After creating BAC, a number of ethnic violence occurred in the Bodo dominated areas of Assam. Among them, a notable ethnic violence occurred in 1993 between the Bodos and the Bengali speaking Muslims in Bongaigaon district that resulted in the death of 50 people. In 1996 and 1998 an unfortunate massacre occurred between the Bodos and the Adivasi Santhals in the Bodo dominated areas of Kokrajhar district that led to the killing of 300 Santhals. In 2008, a conflict took place between the Bodos and the Bengali speaking Muslims that led to the killing of more than 100 people of both the communities in Odalguri and Darrang districts.

Even though tensions were apparently simmering for many months prior to the out-break of the violence in the month of July 2012 in the BTAD area, but immediate trigger was the killing of two Muslim youths who were shot dead by the unidentified gunmen on 6 July, 2012. The needle of suspicion pointed to the former cadres of the disbanded BLT. In retaliation, four former cadres of BLT were hacked to death by a mob in the Muslim dominated village of Joypur near Kokrajhar town. What unfolded after that was the worst humanitarian crisis to have hit Assam in decades. During that time the crisis unfolds in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts of the BTAD and the adjoining Dhuburi and Bongaigaon districts.

Assam witnessed the tragedy of nearly 5, 00,000 people belonging to the Bodo and the Muslim Communities being forced to take shelter in 273 temporary refugee camps. An estimated 109 people lost their lives and around 500 villages were burnt down from both sides.

The violence has had widespread repercussions among the minority communities living in other states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, etc. Campaign on behave of religious minority had taken place through SMS and MMS. Attack started upon the north-eastern people. Fearing a backlash, thousand of migrant workers, students, servicemen from north- eastern states including Assam started fleeing from these states.

The Rabha-Garo Conflict

In the latest spate of the Rabha-Garo ethnic clashes that broke out on the New year’s Day, 2011 on both sides of the Assam-Meghalaya border, nine people were so far killed and around thirty thousand people became homeless either because their houses were burnt down or because they had to flee their homes out of fear. There had been the Rabha-Garo conflicts earlier also but not on this scale.

The background to the long standing conflict is that the Rabhas are recongnized as a scheduled caste tribe in Goalpara district of Assam but not in the contiguous East Garo Hills district of Meghalaya. People of both the ethnic groups – the Rabhas and the Garos – live on either side of the border. The East Garo Hills district has also owned Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the constitution. But the Rabhas are not a scheduled tribe community in Meghalaya. They never had their representation in the elected district council. For quite some time the Rabhas had been agitating in the Garo Hills for giving them the scheduled tribe status. But the Garos and the Meghalaya Government are opposed to it. Off and on the Rabhas had been giving bandh calls to press their demand bringing lift to a standstill in both the districts.

Since the Rabhas have been demanding scheduled tribe status under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution and have been lobbying for their own autonomous council in Goalpara district, that is, the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council, the Garos and the other minorities in the district of Goalpara have feared discrimination.

Some Steps towards Peace

Certain steps are required for a non-violent solution of conflicts through respect for human rights and different cultures’ democracy, tolerance and solidarity. They are:

  1. Constitutional accommodation and reform are to be made for more viable solution to such movements and conflicts than temporary arrangement and suppression from the state.
  2. If genuine autonomy is not granted, there will be more violence in such regions and this will not only hamper the growth of a peaceful civil society.
  3. The message of love by creating awareness among the people of different communities is to be spread against the danger of the ideologies that perpetuate hatred and division among them.
  4. There is need to work for a culture of peace based on non-violent relations not only between communities but also between individuals, social groups and all the citizens.
  5. Peace and progress can be achieved through education and so by educating the common people the society can be made aware of the social evils and consequently these evils can be eradicated through education.


Ethnic conflict is the major problem in north-east India, especially in Assam. It arises out of the socio-economic conditions within the political, economic structures of the country. If land, labour, capital, culture and religion are the major sources of conflict among the human race, then liberty, equality, fraternity and economic development are effective means for resolving the conflict. In Indian heritage of Ahimsa (non- violence) preached by Mahatma Gandhi, the spirit of life of simplicity or ‘living lightly on earth’ has been forgotten by the present day leaders. Instead of people welfare, most leaders think only for their own good and this destroys the process of peace and harmony among the communities as crores of rupees sanctioned for various schemes are not spent or are misused.


  1. Das Amiya Kumar, Assam Agomy, New Delhi, Lancer 1982
  2. Deka Kanak Sen, Assam Orisis: Myth and Reality, New Delhi, Mittal Publication 1993
  3. Agarwal M N, Ethnicity, culture, Nationalism in North- east India, New Delhi, Indus Publishing company, 1996
  4. Deb Bimal ,. Ethnic Issues Secularism and conflict Resolution in North-East India, concept Publishing Company, New Delhi,2006
  5. Kumar B B, Problems of Ethnicity in the North- East India, Concept Publishing company, New Delh,-2007
  6. Das GN, Tribal Development in North- esat India, 2008
  7. Barua Sanjib, Indian Against itself, New Delhi, Published by Oxford University Press, 2009.
  8. Basumatary P, The Rabha Tribe of North-East- India, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2010
  9. Saikia B, Migration and Ethnic Clashes in BTAD, EBH Publishers, Guwahati,2015
  10. Publication Board, Assam, Ethnicity Insurgency, Governmence and Development: Political History of Assam Volume 1 to 3.

The write is the Asstt. Professor, Deptt. of Political Science Karmashree Hiteswar Saikia College, Six Mile, Guwahati, Assam, India.

7 Comments on “Ethnic Violence in Assam: Its Solutions

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