Wednesday, February 02, 2005

encounters with the Bodo ex-militantia

In Assam, almost every other village that one visits is home to a surrendered 'militant'.

Roshon, the guy driving the battered blue Maruti 800 (hired at Rs 800 for an 8-hour stretch) in Bongaigaon, turned out to be one.

I had been making enquiries about the 'movement', and whether things would get better now that the central government had allowed the Bodos more administrative rights, in BTC (Bodo Territorial Council) areas, like the newly-formed Chirang District.

The driver communicated finally that he was one of the 'surrendered'.
I couldn't get much out of him, though. Except that he used to carry an SLR rifle and had never killed anyone yet.

Now that a peace accord has been signed, the administration doles out Rs 2000 per month, as a sort of allowance per surrendered militant. Roshon got it too. This, and a little extra money pooled in by his cousin, allowed him to build a life again, after the movement cooled off. He bought the Maruti and turned driver.

I met another in Kasibari village, Chirang District.
There he was, sitting with the village president and the school teachers, sipping tea. He wouldn't answer my questions, but smiled benignly enough while the other men poked fun at him.

The most interesting find, of course, was Phanendra Goyare.

A small, wizened creature, we bumped into Phanendra goyare in Boro Bazaar, near a public phone booth, trying to locate the local MLA.

Goyare, it turned out, is not just an ex-militant. He is also ex-SSB, in other words, a former military-intelligence guy. [Not much is known about the SSB. I tried running a few searches on the internet, but the only things mentioned there are that the SSB is part of the military division of the armed forces and that is in unique because this force (consisting of only two battalions) also functions as an intelligence agency.]

Which means that this guy, Goyare is a highly trained, very tough militaryman-turned-militant. and his job, throughout this movement, has been to train other recruits for the Bodo movement.

I am recording (below) some part of the conversation with him -

"I used to be with the SSB (Special Security Bureau).... was there right since the start. They set up the force when the trouble with China started - they sent us to the Chinese border. We were trained in guerrila warfare....
"I was with the SSB until 1986-7. I had fought in the 1971 war (Bangladesh).... Thousands died… tens of thousands on their side. I remember wading through a sea of dead-heads...."

'And then?', I asked.

"Then the Bodo movement began, over here.... See, we don't want to kill. But you have to kill a few people, to make the government sit up and take notice. So..."

I changed track, "Why did you leave the SSB?"

Goyare shrugged, "We had no facilities. We weren't paid as much as the other military forces. And there was no career security for us. We were used when we were needed only... So I joined the movement. And I began working with them."

"For the movement, I have trained 2,642 young men, along with my fellow-trainer. He is also ex-SSB... belongs to upper Assam. Of course, we've all surrendered. But we still maintain this camp."

The 'camp' is a building in Boro Bazaar that seems to double up as a hostel of sorts, with young men walking in and out, paying little attention to us.

'Camp?', I ventured.

Goyare smiled, "You never know... it is best to be prepared for anything. But now, I want to go back to my farm... The Bodo rule will be different."

I asked him why it would be different.

"there wer no jobs for Bodos earlier", he said.

'There are no jobs now,' I said.

Goyare looked away. "My younger son is still studying. I don't know what I will do if he doesn't get a job?....... They did promise a lot of things if we surrendered.

"But I still maintain the training camp here. Some boys still stay… you never know.... Besides, we have to contend with the NDFB now. They have not surrendered, and they like to target our boys. Our job is now to tackle the NDBF; we'll help the government army hunt them out."

The violence, though, is far from done with.

The Bodo movement was factioned to begin with - there were The BLT (Bodo Liberation Tigers) and the NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland). The NFDB is still armed and rather resentful, because the BLT has hogged the limelight, the peace accord and the key administrative posts in the autonomous district.

In short, there's little leftover for their own cadre, even if they did want to surrender. And they're not likely to for the government (centre and state) has little left to bargain against, with the NDFB.

If the BLT and its surrendered cadre fail to round up and/or destroy the other faction, a fresh burst of violence is inevitable.

[One little afterthought - Goyare says he trained 2,642 men. After the Memorandum of Settlement between the centre, the Assamese government and the BLT, on Dec 6, 2003, only 2,641 people surrendered.
So, who is that one guy who was trained and hasn't surrendered?]

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