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Tinsukia Killings: Not Violence but Tolerance is the Solution

POSTED ON 12 November, 2018

parmita Das
Research Assistant, CDPS

After months of relative calm, the state of Assam again witnessed an incident of barbaric monstrosity. The place of occurrence this time was Eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district, where five persons were shot dead by suspected members of the United Liberation Front of Asom- Independent (ULFA-I). The horrifying incident took place on 1 November 2018 at Kherbari, near the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge over the River Brahmaputra, which is the longest bridge in India covering 9.15 km and which connects Assam with Arunachal Pradesh. All the five persons who were killed belonged to the Hindu Bengali community.

According to one of the eye-witness of the incident, who escaped a narrow death, around five-six men, dressed in army fatigue, approached him and a few others and called them for a small discussion. Considering them as army personnel, the group followed them without question. A few meters away, the six men were asked to sit down and were shot at by the suspected militants. While five men succumbed to the bullets fired, the sixth man, escaped death miraculously.

The authorities suspected the role of the ULFA-I behind the killings, but the outfit denied its role in the killings. In a statement released on 2 November, it said - “We, the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) would like to make it clear that our organization does not have any involvement in the firing incident that occurred on 1st November 2018 at Sadiya Saikhowaghat in Tinsukia district.”

However, the security agencies still believe that it is the ULFA-I which was behind the killings. After all, the ULFA-I had taken responsibility for the low-intensity blast that took place in Guwahati on 13 October 2018, in which four persons were injured. After the blast, the ULFA-I ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah had said that the real target of the bomb was “to resist all groups who are trying to give shelter to Hindu Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the NRC.”

This statement was seen by many as a direct threat by the ULFA-I against the Bengalis in Assam. In fact, on 2 November, Pallab Bhattacharyya, Special DGP (Special Branch) of the Assam Police, had said, “Seven days back, there was an intelligence input about attacks in Bengali-dominated areas, but there was nothing specific.”

The killings in Tinsukia can be, to some extent, attributed to the inflammatory statements being given by some political leaders and former insurgents. Following the Guwahati blast, Shiladitya Dev, a BJP MLA from Hojai Constituency, provoked the insurgent outfit and the Bengali community with instigating remarks along communal lines.

On the other hand, on 24 October 2018, pro-talk ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika remarked, “We will never allow the passing of the Bill (Citizenship Amendment Bill). If the Bill is passed, Assam must be ready to revisit the era of 1983. The government must be ready to face massacre-like situations.” A few months earlier, Hazarika’s comrade, Jiten Dutta, had also threatened to withdraw from the ceasefire and take up arms if the Union Government passed the Bill. Both Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta were detained by the police on 2 November for questioning after the Tinsukia killings.

In retaliation to Mrinal Hazarika’s comment on ‘massacre-like situations’, the Assam Bengali Association (AKSA) threatened the ex-insurgent of dire consequence if a hand is laid on any Bengalis of Assam.

Realizing that these kinds of provocative statements have played a role in the Tinsukia massacre, Chief Minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal had said on 2 November that - “the government would take action against people, organisations, media and public representatives who made inflammatory statements in the past that led to the incident”.

The state of Assam is at present at a critical juncture with the ongoing update process of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016. The purpose of NRC update is to identify the persons who have entered Indian Territory illegally after the midnight of 24 March 1971 and to determine the citizenship of the applicants who have applied for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. The procedure is being carried out under the thorough supervision of the Supreme Court of India.

During the first two publication of the draft list of NRC, the citizens have shown great integrity and respect to the entire procedure and there were no untoward incidents reported within the State. There were no incidents where violence might have erupted among people of different religions or community. Hence, it is evident that the residents of Assam, irrespective of religion or language, are firm believers of co-existence and love to live in peace and harmony.

However, it is a section of the political diaspora as well as active and former insurgents who have been making the situation volatile with their insensitive comments. Fallout of these statements can be seen in the killing of five innocent persons in Tinsukia. This kind of behavior has to be reined in. Political parties should prevent its members from giving such provocative statements. The insurgent leaders too should stop targeting certain communities in their statements. Civil society groups too need to be vigilant and should actively engage with people from all the communities so as to maintain peace and tranquility in the State.