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Hostage-taking: Assam’s New Security Threat


Research fellow, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

Assam is witnessing a spurt in cases of abduction in recent months. Small break-away factions of the major insurgent outfits, criminal gangs, former insurgents, and one-time linkmen of these rebel groups are now trying to cash in on the vacuum created by the ceasefire entered into by most frontline insurgent outfits. On March 26, 2012, Assam forest minister Rockybul Hussain, standing in for Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi who holds the Home portfolio, said in the state legislative assembly that between 2006 and 2011, there have been 456 cases of abduction in Assam. In 2012 itself, up to March, 56 abduction cases have been registered in the state. (The Telegraph, March 27, 2012). This means that there have been almost two cases of kidnapping a day.

It is clear that Assam is now witnessing a transition from insurgency to terror to crime. Criminal gangs are entering the field to have their share of profits from the economy created by the insurgent groups in the region i.e. the economy of terror. The truce entered into between the rebel groups and the government has led to the reduction in subversive activities by armed insurgent cadres and this space is sought to be filled in by these criminal gangs. The increasing cases of abductions for ransom are an indication of this.

According to a news report in The Assam Tribune (dated March 27, 2012), 70 persons were kidnapped in 2011 and three of them were killed, while, the security agencies have definite information that at least 45 of them paid ransom to the abductors to come out safely. As per records, 75 persons were kidnapped in 2010. Four abducted persons have been killed in 2012 so far.

Let us take a look at some of the abduction cases in Assam in 2012. On March 15, 2012, Chandra Gogoi, a farmer abducted from Talpathar in Tinsukia was found dead. On March 13, 2012, Dr. M.C.Agarwala was kidnapped from his chamber in Guwahati. He was rescued two days later from Nalbari. A businessman from Jorhat, Kailash Ginoria was abducted on March 10, 2012 and later his decomposed body was recovered from Nagaland on March 24. On February 23, 2012, two teachers of Don Bosco Institute were abducted by suspected Adivasi militants from Kokrajhar. They were rescued two days later by the security forces.

What is alarming is the fact that these gangs are getting transformed into organized crime syndicates, and are using ingenious methods to lure soft targets. The Assam Police has said criminal gangs are using ‘honey traps’ to get their targets into custody. The police have cited the case of businessman Kailash Ginoria of Jorhat who, they say, was lured into the gang’s trap by a woman.

The government has been able to bring most of the major insurgent groups in the state to the negotiating table. Indications for long lasting peace in Assam are in sight. But with the growth of crime and criminal gangs, peace seems to be still elusive in the state. The increasing cases of abduction are damaging the law and order scenario and are negating the positive results that have been achieved after the insurgent outfits had come over ground.

The active insurgent groups in the region are also using these criminal elements to abduct persons and demand ransoms. By sharing the ransom amount, these outfits are hiring their services and in this way, they are not risking their own manpower. According to official sources, most of the kidnappings in 2012 have been done by the hardline faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), Ranjan Daimary faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers (KPLT), Adivasi insurgent groups and even by members of the insurgent groups under a ceasefire agreement.

The Assam police have still not been able to curtail these incidents. As insurgency-related incidents are now on a wane in the state, the police now have to develop a more focussed strategy towards tackling criminal incidents in the state. As the abductors take their victim from one district to another, it is necessary that the police in the various districts maintain a close coordination with each other and keep each other informed of the developments. They have to increase their intelligence gathering on the criminal gangs and also study their modus operandi.

Looking at the figures of abduction cases in Assam, it can be seen that there has been a rise of such cases over the years. Another thing to worry about is that killings of abducted persons have also increased. If strict action is not taken to reduce such incidents, the situation may turn worse and Assam may become a hub of abductions. It has to be understood that incidents of abductions would give negative publicity for Assam and may harm the tourism sector of the state. For a state like Assam which has immense tourism potential that would be a very serious setback.