Viviane Dalles

Photo Essay : - NE, A forgotten India, 2007

- For the Norwegian Refugees Council/ IDMC -

The Northeast of India is connected to the rest of the country by the thirty kilometre-wide Shiliguri corridor - often called the Chicken’s

Neck. This region is divided into seven states, nicknamed The 7 Sisters: Arunachal Pradesh, Asom, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Na-

galand, and Tripura. Despite its geographical isolation, the region is home to 200 of the 430 ethnic groups listed in India and a great religious, cultural and traditional richness.

Assam, the largest of The 7 Sisters, is one of the areas subject recurrent conflicts. Assam is subject to a multitude of conflicts. Depending on the region, the communities as well as political and economic circumstances, the conflicts - and victims - are all different.

The insurgent groups of various communities or political groups use violent methods - terrorizing the population, burning houses, im-

posing arbitrary taxes and practising ethnic cleansing, in order to voice their claims which differ according to their loyalties. Some of them claim regional autonomy or state sovereignty, others to defend land and resources or to exclude or marginalize other ethnic groups or immigrants.

The victims are mainly civilians, members of ‘rival’ groups, minorities and immigrants (from Bangladesh, Nepal or central India in order to work on tea plantations or in brick factories). These mobile populations have been accorded the status of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). As opposed to the status of refugee (with which comes international assistance) IDPs remain under the protection of the national government and as such should have the same rights as the rest of the population.

Caught up in conflict for more than 30 years, army and/or paramilitary presence (depending on the region) doesn’t seem to present an adequate solution. For the IDPs, whatever the political, economic or territorial issue, the result is the same - they don’t have the rights to a decent life. In 2008, more than 200.000 persons remain displaced in Assam.

Near Kokarajar, western Assam. Goods vehicles en route to Bangladesh.
  
Sapkata, western Assam. Santhal comunity. Camps. Here: Dawn. Ablutions at the well.History: the Bodos are the single largest tribal community in Assam totaling 6% of the population. The majority live in West  Assam, Kokarajar, Oldaguri and Gossaigon. After the ratification of an accord between the Bodo Autonomous Council and the Assam government, the Northeast has experienced conflict followed by a wave of migration in the Bodo region of Western Assam. The Assam government refused to include several hundred villages in the accord (because they did not have a Bodo majority). The Bodos responded with efforts to ‘create a majority,’ which resulted in attacks on Bengali Muslims in 1993, Bengali Hindus in 1995 and Santhals in 1996. These attacks displaced 350,000 people, 190,000 of them Adivasi (Santhals).  In 1996, more than 250,000 people were displaced following violent attacks by Bodo groups against Santhal and minority communities.  The following year most of the IDPs returned to their homes but the attacks resumed in 1998.
  
January 2007. Near Bijni, western Assam.Muslims of Bengali origin living on the roadside since the conflict in 1993. They live in dangerous conditions in makeshift shelters. The shelters line the busy roadside, regularly used by buses and lorries. There are often accidents involving children, unaware of the danger.  The IDPs remain ill informed of the decision-making process concerning them.
     
  
January 2007. Kokarajar, western Assam.
  
Sapkata, western Assam. Santhal comunity. Camps. History: the Bodos are the single largest tribal community in Assam totaling 6% of the population. The majority live in West Assam, Kokarajar, Oldaguri and Gossaigon. After the ratification of an accord between the Bodo Autonomous Council and the Assam government, the Northeast has experienced conflict followed by a wave of migration in the Bodo region of Western Assam. The Assam government refused to include several hundred villages in the accord (because they did not have a Bodo majority). The Bodos responded with efforts to ‘create a majority,’ which resulted in attacks on Bengali Muslims in 1993, Bengali Hindus in 1995 and Santhals in 1996. These attacks displaced 350,000 people, 190,000 of them Adivasi (Santhals).  In 1996, more than 250,000 people were displaced following violent attacks by Bodo groups against Santhal and minority communities.  The following year most of the IDPs returned to their homes but the attacks resumed in 1998.
  
A camp in the hills 8km from Diphu, capital of Karbi Anglong, Assam. It was set up by the government in 2005.It is home to 996 Karbi families (around 5000 people). Despite the precarious conditions in the camp they fear reprisals in their villages from insurgent groups and do not wish to return. History: the region of Karbi Anglong is populated mainly by the Karbi and the Dimasa communities. Despite political and economic tensions, the two main communities have lived side my side for time immemorial. In 2005 trouble began in the district following the murder of three Dimasa rikshaw drivers. In turn, this provoked a campaign of violence on both sides - murders, burned houses, terrorized villages.The two opposing groups were the pro-Karbi United People Democratic Solidarity (formed in 1999) and the Dima Halong Daoga (2003). More than 45,000 civilians began to flee their villages .The events of 2005 were triggered by misunderstandings followed by political manipulations. Although the two communities are doing their best to help maintain the peace, fear still exists on both sides. The old founda- tions of confidence have been replaced with mistrust even for those who want peace, the calm remains fragile.
     
  
January 2007. Near Bijni, western Assam.Muslims of Bengali origin living on the roadside since the conflict in 1993. They live in dangerous conditions in makeshift shelters. The shelters line the busy roadside, regularly used by buses and lorries. There are often accidents involving children, unaware of the danger.  The IDPs remain ill informed of the decision-making process concerning them.
  
Near Kokarajar, western Assam. Santhal village at sunrise.
  
Relief camp near Kokarajar, western Assam.Despite the difficult conditions, they cling to the hope of one day returning to their land to work.
     
  
Relief camp near Kokarajar, western Assam.Santhal woman carrying wood back to the camp.
  
Sicampure, Western Assam. Santhal camps opened by the government in 1996. Old woman by her shelter.
  
Sicampure, Western Assam Santhal community.
     
  
Relief camp near Kokarajar, western Assam.