Assam, where the killing of five Bengalis led to another sore point of the language

The assassination of five Bengalis in Sadiya, eastern Assam, on 1 November, caused concern in a state divided in two, while the central government tried to get the 2016 bill passed on citizenship (amendment).

Why controversy?

Assamese and Bengalis, the two largest language groups in the Northeast, have had ambivalent relations since 1836, when the British made Bengali the official language of Assam. The Assamese became the official language 37 years later, but the psychological gap between the communities remained. The situation reached a critical point in the 1960s, when violence against Bengalis took place. They seemed to have hidden the differences in the decades that followed the agitation of Assam (1979-1985).

Where is Sadiya?

Sadiya, a police district under Tinsukia, is a metaphor for the geographical extremity and a cultural paradox. The Brahmaputra begins to flow after the meeting of three rivers – Siang, Dibang and Lohit – on the border with Arunachal Pradesh. Sadiya was the birthplace of Bhupen Hazarika, the ballader who sang about building bridges between communities.

Assam, where the killing of five Bengalis led to another sore point of the language

It was also at this place that Nathan Brown and Oliver Cutter, two American Baptist missionaries, arrived in 1836 from ancient Burma with a printing press to finally give the Assamese language its standard form. Sadiya means "the land of the rising sun", but the bottlenecks of communication due to difficult terrain ensured, as the conflict management experts say, fertile ground for the United Liberation Front. Asom (ULFA), whose revolutionary symbol is the rising sun.

Why was a community targeted?

The anti-talks faction of ULFA, led by Paresh Baruah, denied any involvement in the murders, but the police "no doubt" that the group, desperate to regroup after setbacks, led the Attack to profit from a "conflict situation". aroused by opposing positions on the draft law on citizenship adopted by groups adhering to "Assamese nationalism" and "Bengali sub-nationalism". BJP's allegedly provocative statements, Bengali lawmaker Shiladitya Dev, and the ULFA's pro-talks leaders, Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Duttta, have fueled the charged atmosphere. The Assamese fear that the bill, which aims to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who arrived in India as refugees in December 2014, will make Assam a home for the "Bangladeshi Hindus". The BJP insists that the bill is not specific to Hindus and refugees who have fled religious persecution in the Indian neighborhood will be spread throughout the country.

The special branch of the police said they had information about possible attacks in predominantly Bengali areas, but nothing was specific. The multiethnic Tinsukia is peppered with sizeable pockets of non-indigenous groups such as Bihari, Bengali, Gorkha and Adivasi, with enough votes not to elect indigenous candidates to certain seats in the assembly. In the 1980s, ULFA had set up its first camps in the district. Police said the proximity of the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh makes the region ideal for hit-and-run type operations. But former Assam police chief GM Srivastava said the political situation called for preparation and that security agencies were not able to properly analyze information provided by intelligence .

What is the path to follow?

Lurinjyoti Gogoi, general secretary of Ass Assam Students' Union, said it was unfortunate that political parties were playing protests against the bill as "anti-Bengali." The ethnic issues of Assam are more complex than simple binaries, and we must not forget that non-Bengali Hindus, apart from Bengali Muslims, have moved from the former East Pakistan to Bangladesh, he added. . Beyond politics, some of the Hindu Bengalis who prefer to be called "Asomiya Bangali", as well as Assamese Sikhs and Assamese Chinese (a small community in China at Makum), claim that the bill robbed them of their happiness. The Assamese politicians believe that the bill, which goes against the exercise of updating the National Register of Citizens, must be abandoned.