The massacre of innocent men, women and children in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts of Assam is a familiar, cynical, bloody cycle of violence that is never far away; it is a testament to the simmering cauldron of suspicion, fear and hate stalking the Assam valley and hills. Can there be any ‘reason’ that can even begin to justify such murders of children, some of them barely a few months old?
The butchery indicates a set of well-planned and coordinated operations that clearly caught law enforcement agencies and the State government by surprise. The marauders had been under pressure for some time, with police forces inflicting recent losses on them in Sonitpur district. A breakaway group of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) named after its elusive leader, I.K. Songbijit, is the group responsible for the killings, State police and administrators say. The faction is opposed to talks between the larger NDFB group and the Indian government but does not seem to have any clear and tangible goal apart from that of spreading mayhem and terror.
It recently told the local media that it would show that it is capable of tough retaliation if the pressure continued. But the use of weapons against women and children in the northeastern region is not new or limited; such abuse and brutality has been extensive not just in Assam, but also its neighbouring States. In Meghalaya for instance, earlier this year, a Garo armed group shot dead a young woman in front of her children. There are allegations of abuse against armed groups in Nagaland and Manipur as well.
What has also made such groups difficult to tackle is the fact that they camp on the forested and lightly patrolled border tracts of Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan, according to officials. The latter was the camping ground, until 2003, of three major armed groups — NDFB, United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation — which were using it to organise attacks and recruit members in Assam. That year, they were attacked, devastated and driven out by the Royal Bhutanese Army. There have been reports that some groups have relocated to these thickly forested and sparsely populated areas.