New Delhi: Five truck drivers were killed and their vehicles transporting coal set on fire in a suspected militant attack in Assam’s Dima Hasao district Thursday night.
The trucks were transporting coal as well as other material for a cement manufacturing plant in the region, according to a report in NDTV.
An Indian Express report quoted Dima Hasao district superintendent of police Jayant Singh as saying that five bodies had been recovered from the site and the identification of the men was going on Friday.
According to the police, citing intelligence inputs, the suspected militants likely belonged to the Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA), a separatist militant group based in Assam and parts of Nagaland.
ThePrint takes a look at the DNLA, its origins and its history of violence in Assam.
Origins and primary demands
The origins of the Dimasa National Liberation Army can be traced to a 36 hour-long bandh in the district Dima Hasao and neighbouring district Karbi Anglong in Assam in 2019, a report by News18 notes.
The two neighbouring districts are among the three Autonomous Councils in Assam, formed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The three Autonomous Councils, which also includes the Bodoland Territorial Council, have been given varying degrees of autonomy within the state legislature.
The administrative body North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) has partial executive and legislative jurisdiction over Dima Hasao.
The area has been a regular witness of violence since the 1990s due to clashes involving the Dima Halam Daogah (DMD), a Dimasa militant separatist group.
The DHD further split into the factions DHD (Jewel) and DHD (Nunisa), the former of which was also known as the Black Widow group. The Black Widow group used a “sophisticated network” of government funding to purchase arms and ammunition from overseas dealers and carry out insurgent activities in the region till its disbandment in 2014.
The DNLA is one such separatist group that was founded in the region. As the group’s name suggests, the DNLA consists of members of the Dimasa indigenous community and has publicly stated its intent to protect and unify the community.
Their primary objective has been a separate Independent Dimasa Nation.
The DNLA is also known for its opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as well as the construction of detention camps for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Dima Hasao district.
According to the militant group, the region needs more educational institutions instead of detention camps.
In January 2020, the DNLA’s Information and Publicity Secretary Ringsmai Dimasa had also called on people to observe 25 January as Dimasa Martyr’s Day to commemorate the killing of two Dimasa protesters by Assam Police on 25 January 2018.
Incidents of violence
Between 2019 and 2021, the DNLA was reported to have been involved in several incidents but rarely resulted in casualties.
In February 2020, alleged DNLA militants opened fire on a truck belonging to a road construction company in Mailoo, but no casualties were reported.
Similarly, in October 2019, members of the group allegedly threw a grenade at a hardware shop in Manja but no casualties were reported as the grenade apparently did not explode.
In May 2019, a mob of women also surrounded Langting police station protesting against the arrest of DNLA members
Meanwhile, in May this year, six militants were reportedly killed in an encounter with Assam Rifles and Assam Police in Karbi Anglong and a large amount of arms and ammunition were confiscated.
Dimasa indigenous community
While Dimasa people live in both Assam and Nagaland, much of the population lives in Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong and surrounding districts like Cachar, according to PhD scholar Gargee Bhattacharjee.
“The Dimasa language is known as ‘Grao-Dima’. There is no official script, but Bengali, Assamese and English scripts are normally used,” Bhattacharjee says.