When Karbi Anglong was declared an autonomous district in October 1976 under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, this was intended to resolve the tensions arising out of the disparate aspirations of the district's overwhelmingly tribal population. Thirty years later, Karbi Anglong remains conflict-ridden, with 13-militancy related fatalities (seven per cent of the total militancy-related fatalities in Assam), including six civilians and seven security force personnel. The relatively small number of fatalities, however, is not an accurate index of the instability and violence that continue to wreak havoc in the lives of the people of the state’s largest district.
Karbi Anglong, spread over 10,434 square kilometers, consists of three
district headquarters), Bokajan and Hamren. Located in the central part of Assam, Karbi Anglong is abutted by Golaghat
district in the east, Meghalaya state and Morigaon district in the west, Nagaon and Golaghat
districts in the north and the North Cachar Hills district and the state of Nagaland in the south. With three per cent of Assam’s population of 26.7 million (according to the 2001 Census), and 13 per cent of the
state’s land mass, Karbi Anglong is home to a minority non-tribal population as well as several tribes. While the majority Karbis are spread throughout the
district, Bodos live in the Langhin area; Kukis (also called Thadous or Hmars) in the Singhason and Koilamati areas; Dimasas in the Dhansiri or Mohendijua area; Tiwas in areas bordering Nagaon and Morigaon
districts; Mans in Bokajan sub-division; Garos and Khasis in the Hamren sub-division; Chakmas in the Borlangphar area; and Rengma Nagas in the Nilip Block.
Nearly 89 per cent of Karbi Anglong’s population lives in its 2,633 villages. Some 47 per cent of the district is forested, consisting of 14 state Reserve Forests and 17 district Council Reserve Forests. Compared to a state population density of 340, Karbi Anglong is sparsely populated with a density of 78 persons per square kilometre. district headquarters Diphu is 213 kilometres away from Dispur, the state capital.
In recent years, Karbi Anglong has been a theatre of bitter ethnic strife. Clashes erupted in 2005 between Karbis and Dimasas and, on October 29, 2005, a total of 88 people were officially reported killed and 1,014 houses were set ablaze. People belonging to other ethnic groups—Bodo, Nepali and Assamese—also lost their lives in the violence, in which the involvement of local insurgents of the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) and Dima Halim Daogah (DHD), was confirmed by the government. A year and half earlier, on March 24, 2004, at least 34 Karbi villagers had been killed by the Manipur-based Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) militants at Uden Tisso and Sarpo Terong villages under Bokajan Police Station, and Jari Teron under the Manja Police Outpost. Clashes had started over the issue of extortion from Kuki ginger cultivators in the Singhasan Hills, but soon took the shape of an extended ethnic conflict involving UPDS and KRA militants, which continued for three months.
UPDS was formed in March 1999 with the merger of two outfits, the Karbi National Volunteers (KNV) and Karbi People’s Front (KPF), with the objective of creating a separate homeland for the Karbis, and entered into an extended cease-fire agreement with the Union government in May 23, 2002. In January 2006, UPDS dropped its main demand for an autonomous state and, instead, settled for additional powers to the existing Autonomous Council. However, in September 2006, the outfit announced the suspension of its ‘peace talks’ with New Delhi, without discontinuing the cease-fire. A month later, media reportage indicated its involvement in an intensified extortion drive, with incidents reported from Nahorjan, Tongkory, Tinglijan, Ramsing Terang and Dikoi Terang in the Karbi Anglong district. Prominent incidents in 2006 and early 2007 included:
March 5, 2006: A trader and a civil society activist was abducted from Mentila village and later killed by UPDS militants at Nahorjan. The victim’s wife was earlier served a demand note for a ransom of Rs one million for the release of her husband.
April 10, 2006: Two persons were killed by unidentified UPDS militants in the Tongkory area.
April 29, 2006: A pharmacist was abducted by UPDS militants from Tinglijan medical sub-centre under Bokajan Police Station.
January 19, 2007: A senior leader of the Autonomous state Demand Committee, Kuthor Hanse, was killed by UPDS militants at his residence at Hidim Teron village. The militants also assaulted villagers at Ramsing Terang and Dikoi Terang under Manja police station.
The ceasefire between the UPDS and the union government led to a split in the outfit, with a splinter group rechristened the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF). The KLNLF also formed an ‘armed wing’, the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Resistance Force on May 16, 2004. Apart from engaging in internecine clashes with the UPDS, the KLNLF has engaged in violence targeting civilians in Karbi Anglong and adjoining areas. Significant incidents involving KLNLF cadres include:
June 15, 2006: Bokajan Police recovered the dead body of a KLNLF cadre who was abducted from Japarajan and later killed by UPDS militants.
December 5, 2006: KLNLF militants hurled two grenades and opened fire at Dongamukam.
December 18, 2006: Acivil convoy was damaged when suspected KLNLF militants opened fire on it at Silvetta under Diphu Police Station.
December 24, 2006: Acivil convoy was damaged by KLNLF militants at Kohra
January 6, 2007: At least eight polling personnel were killed and eight others were injured during elections to the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, when the KLNLF exploded an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and opened fire. The polling personnel were targeted while they were returning from the No. 16 Hapjan Polling Station under Dokmoka Police Station, to Parakhowa.
Militancy from Karbi Anglong also spilled over into the neighbouring states, especially the Jaintia Hills and its adjoining Ri-Bhoi district, in Meghalaya, which witnessed an extortion drive by the Karbi militants. On June 24, 2006, several villagers of Moolaber, Skap, Deinler, Saba, Myntang, Psiar, Lum Moojem, Khatkhasla, Mooshrot, Mukroh and other neighbouring villages near Labang-Nongphyllut in the Jaintia Hills district were forced to pay Rs 200 each by UPDS militants. Again, on July 1, 2006, several farmers of Mawlasnai area in the Ri-Bhoi district, with their cultivable lands in the Madan Umwang and Khlieh Umwang areas, were served demand notes by the UPDS to pay ‘levies’. They were later asked by the militants to attend a meeting at Madan Umwang, and were threatened with dire consequences in case of failure to meet the demands. Similarly, Khasi farmers in the Block-II areas of the Ri-Bhoi district alleged that they were subjected to extortion, on October 24, 2006, by the KNV. On June 28, 2006, several civil society groups and chiefs of local self-governance institutions, Rangbah Shnongs, urged the government to create more Police outposts and deploy additional Police personnel to prevent the UPDS from harassing Khasi-Pnar families in the Block-I and II areas of the Jaintia Hills district. Meghalaya Chief Minister J.D. Rymbai, on July 5, 2006, accused the UPDS of violating rules of the cease-fire agreement by engaging in unlawful activities along the Assam-Meghalaya border.
Karbi Anglong also witnessed violence by militants primarily based and active in other districts of the state. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), for instance, which has been under a cease-fire agreement with the union government since May 25, 2005, has extended its ‘operations’ into this district:
June 26, 2006: Two NDFB extortionists were killed by security personnel at an unspecified location under the Dokmoka Police Outpost. Three other militants, however, managed to escape from the site of the encounter.
July 5, 2006: Two cadres of the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) were killed by suspected NDFB militants at Langhing.
November 16, 2006: Two NDFB militants were shot dead by the Assam Police in a counter-insurgency operation at Langkin Manikpur.
Similarly, the DHD and its renegade group, the Black Widow, based in neighbouring North Cachar Hills district, also operate in Karbi Anglong. An internecine clash among Black Widow cadres occurred at Lanfer village under Kheroni Police Station in the Hamren sub-division on August 20, 2006, following the escape of five cadres of the outfit from its camp in North Cachar Hills. Further, on December 1, 2006, two DHD militants were arrested during a search operation at Diphu.
Karbi Anglong comprises six Police Station jurisdictions—Diphu, Howraghat, Bokajan, Baithalangso, Hamren and Kheroni. These police stations have further been divided into 11 police outposts: Diphu Town, Manja, Dhansiri, Bakulia, Dokmoka, Uttorborbil, Dillai, Borpathar, Khotkhoti, Donkamoka and Ulukunchi. There are also 10 Border Outposts (BOPs), including Lahorijan, Sankartilla, Monglamukh, Doldoli, Daujingphang and Rongapahar along the Assam-Nagaland border and Khanduli, Mokoiram, Sabuda and Mukroh along Assam-Meghalaya border. Against the back drop of the continuing militancy, the security set up in the district appeared to have registered some successes, including:
January 9, 2006: The UPDS ‘publicity secretary', Tongeeh Nongloda, was arrested from Dillai for carrying a 9mm pistol.
April 10, 2006: The UPDS 'defence secretary', Thong Teron, was killed by security personnel at Satgaon under the Dongkamokam police outpost.
November 13, 2006: At least seven suspected UPDS militants were arrested at Kaniya Bey Village near Diphu for violating cease-fire rules.
November 26, 2006: A suspected UPDS militant was arrested from the Lahorijan area under Khatkhati police station.
Regrettably, the state of militancy in Karbi Anglong fails to register in the consciousness of mainstream Assam, both among the intelligentsia and among policy makers. Despite the many peace processes and ceasefire agreements with various groups in and around the district, the unfortunate reality is that area will continue to fester in the shadow of official neglect.
Sandipani Dash is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management.
Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal