25 years later, Assam's ethnic riot-displaced Santhals and Bodos set to return home

Express News Service

GUWAHATI: Twenty-five years since fleeing their home and hearth amidst a bloody ethnic riot between Santhals and Bodos in Assam, the displaced people will return to their homes.

The autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) administration has decided to take them to their villages within the next three months. Some have been lodged in relief camps since 1996 when the riot broke out. Others had relocated elsewhere.

“Bodoland had witnessed riots in 1996, 2008 and 2012. We want to take the affected people to their homes and establish a peaceful BTR (Bodoland Territorial Region). Our first priority will be to take the affected Santhals and Bodos of Gossaigaon (in Kokrajhar district) to their homes in the next three months. It’s unfortunate that they have been away from home for 25 years,” BTC chief Pramod Bodo said.

The BTC administration will help rebuild their houses by utilising schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. The houses were torched during the riot or they got destroyed in the past 25 years. “The houses of not all of these people were destroyed. Basically, they did not return home all these years due to security concerns. We have decided to set up police outposts in the villages,” the BTC chief said.

Over 2.5 lakh people were displaced in the Bodo-Santhal conflict. Hundreds others had lost their lives. In 1998, there was another wave of exodus when the fight resumed. It was around that time that militancy had peaked in the Bodo areas.

The Santhals were at the receiving hand again in December 2014 when the militants of National Democratic Front of Bodoland or NDFB had carried out a series of attacks, killing at least 76 people, inside and outside BTR.

The 2008 and 2012 riots in Bodoland were between the Bodos and the Bengali-speaking Muslims in which over 100 people were killed and lakhs others displaced. The militants were also involved.

Meanwhile, the BTC chief said the former NDFB militants would be rehabilitated soon. “The Assam government will give us Rs 160 crore by September for the rehabilitation of erstwhile NDFB members. While several clauses of the BTR pact have been implemented, several others are going to be implemented soon,” he said.

Over 1,600 rebels, belonging to four factions of the NDFB, had laid down weapons after the signing of historic BTR pact on January 27 last year. The Centre has already provided a Rs 1,500 crore special development package to the BTC administration to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas.