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What is the Karbi insurgency, its violent past & how it could impact coming Assam election

The Karbi insurgency for a separate state of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills is in the spotlight after 1,040 insurgents surrendered to the Assam govt this week.

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New Delhi: Ingti Kathar Songbijit, one of Assam’s most wanted leaders, accused in multiple cases of violence, along with 1,039 other insurgents — belonging to five militant outfits of Karbi Anglong autonomous districtsurrendered in front of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal at a function in Guwahati Tuesday, ahead of the state’s assembly elections.

The development comes a year after the Modi government signed the Bodo peace accord — bringing an end to the long violent movement for a separate Bodoland.

The Karbi insurgency — for a separate state of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills — is one of the several insurgencies that Assam has faced over the years, apart from the Bodoland movement and the one led by ULFA to demand sovereignty for Assam.

A total of 338 weapons, including 58 AK-47 rifles, 11 M-16 rifles, 8 light machine guns and 11,203 bullets were laid down by the former militants at an official ceremony held at Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra in Guwahati. 

Members of the five outfits — Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger (KPLT), People’s Democratic Council of Karbi Longri (PDCK), Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), Kuki Liberation Front (KLF) and United People’s Liberation Army (UPLA) — laid down their arms in the presence Sonowal, senior police and Army officers, former Asom Sahitya Sabha president Rongbong Terang, village headmen and members of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council.

Songbijit, self-styled leader of the PDCK, had been declared the “most wanted” for his alleged involvement in the killing of 69 adivasis on 23 December 2014 in Chirang, Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts. 

Several cases are lodged against him with the National Investigation Agency for allegedly killing non-Bodos and adivasis between 2014 and 2015.  

Before forming the PDCK, Songbijit led the militant outfit, named National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit), also known as NDFB(S), which is allegedly responsible for the killing of more than 200 people — including adivasis and Muslims.

In 2015, Songbijit was removed as the leader of NDFB(S) and B. Saoraigwra, another Karbi militant, took over. Following this, Songbijit formed the PDCK

The 2014 adivasi massacre, which killed 70 people, prompted the central government to order ‘Operation All Out’ to flush out NDFB-IKS militants.

Experts say that the surrender of the militant outfits is a “win-win situation” in terms of both bringing peace to the disturbed region and also electorally. 

ThePrint explains the Karbi insurgency, the outfits involved in it and the different tribes in the area.

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Tribes and ethnic clashes in Karbi Anglong 

Karbi Anglong, the largest district in Assam, comprises various tribal and ethnic groups — Karbis, Bodos, Kukis, Dimasas, Hmars, Garos, Rengma Nagas, Tiwas, and Man (Tai Speaking). Apart from these groups, a lot of non-tribals also reside in the hilly district

The Karbis racially belong to the Mongoloid group and linguistically to the Tibeto-Burman group. 

It is an autonomous district under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and located in central Assam. Spread across an area of 10,434 sq km, Karbi Anglong is geographically divided into two parts — East Karbi Anglong (EKA) and West Karbi Anglong (WKA) — with its administrative headquarters located at Diphu town in EKA. 

The Karbi Anglong District Council (KADC), which looks after safeguarding the rights of the tribal people, was upgraded to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) in April 1995. 

The Sixth Schedule allows the constitution of autonomous district councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to safeguard the rights of tribal population.

Several clashes have broken out between various tribes in Karbi over the years. 

From the period between October 2003 and March 2004, a series of violent clashes had broken out between Karbi and Kuki militants, leaving 98 dead and 28 others injured. 

The Kukis are a majority in the Singhason hill area. In 2005, clashes between Karbis and Dimasas killed 106 people and injured 19. 

In 2014, over 3,000 people from Karbi and Rengma Naga tribes were rendered homeless due to violent clashes that broke out between KPLT and Rengma Naga Hills Protection Force (RNHPF) on 27 December. 

Demand for statehood 

Regarded as the father and architect of ‘Karbi Nation’ and ‘Karbi Nationalism’, Semson Sing Ingti along with few others started a movement to raise awareness and political consciousness among the Karbi people. 

In 1946, the first Karbi socio-political organisation, Karbi A Dorbar, was constituted, which submitted the demand for a separate state before the Bordoloi committee the next year. Gopinath Bordoloi, the first chief minister of Assam, headed this committee set up in 1947 to prepare schemes for the northeastern tribal areas.

In 1979, the Karbi Anglong People’s Conference (KAPC)  — the autonomous district council for the protection of the rights of tribal people — declared they needed a separate state for the hilly population of Assam.

The Karbis’ demand for a separate state of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills gained further momentum after the Centre carved out Telangana in 2014.

However, unlike before, the demand for the separate state was backed by militant groups in the area in the 1990s. But these groups got disintegrated with time and fractionated out.

Militant outfits — Karbi National Volunteers (KNV) and Karbi People’s Force (KPF) — were formed in 1996, but could hardly gain any prominence. Then in 1999, both organisations came under one umbrella, calling itself the United Peoples’ Democratic Solidarity (UPDS). 

The UPDS’ then general secretary Horen Sing Bey is now the BJP MP from the Karbi Anglong Lok Sabha constituency.

The UPDS entered into a ceasefire agreement in 2002 with the Indian government, after which its ‘anti-talk’ faction formed the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) in 2004.

In 2010, the KLNLF entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India during which over 400 cadres laid down their arms. Then, one of its members Amitabh Hanse broke away from the outfit with 17 other cadres to form the Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger (KPLT), declaring to continue the struggle for fulfilling the needs of the Karbi people. 

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‘Important step towards beginning peace in the state’

Apurba Kumar Baruah, retired professor of the Shillong-based North-Eastern Hill University, told ThePrint it is important to note the timing of the surrender.

“Karbi Anglong has remained disturbed for a long time. Karbis, Dimasas and other tribes are engaged in fighting with each other. However, it is important to note the context of this surrender — Assam elections.”

“The BJP will corner the extremists underground elements and bring them into the party. The process of which has already started, so this is a win-win situation for both sides electorally and politically. The government will provide these outfits some kind of accord like the Bodos,” he said.

“However, the situation in Karbi Anglong is different from that of Bodoland as Karbi population is smaller, which is why they cannot play a big role in the electoral politics of Assam. But this is an important step towards beginning peace in the state,” Baruah added.

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