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Why India’s Northeast Is A Hotbed For Violent Insurgency

Modern day India may not be known for its rampant sectarian violence, but in the country’s North East, connected by the 14 mile wide Siliguri Corridor, violent insurgents continue to battle each other and the national government.

Sandwiched between the Himalayas are the seven sister states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland.

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NE India from Wikipedia

Though the the vast majority of India remains quite stable, in these states there is an insurgency–none more active than the one in Assam, where over 10,000 people have lost their lives in the past two decades.

Like most sectarian conflicts, the groups involved in the conflict are vying for independence; in some cases, from each other, and others, from the Indian government entirely.

But who exactly are these groups, and what do they want? In order to understand what’s happening, one needs only to look any further than the state of Assam, which has become a hotbed for dangerous militants.

Who are the factions?

Assam’s insurgents are web of ethnic tribes and factions, all of whom claim to fight for sovereignty and ethnic purity. Below are a two of the most prolific groups active today.

United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)

Arguably one of the strongest insurgent groups in the region, the ULFA has been banned by the Indian national government since 1990, and has been labeled as a terrorist group.

According to the ULFA, the group seeks to secede from the Indian national government and form its own sovereign state. The groups battle for autonomy dates back to 1826 when ruled India remained under British rule.

They engage in a host of terrorist-like activities like the killing and kidnapping, and by most recent estimates, the ULFA commands anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 fighters, though many have surrendered over the past decade.

The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)

Like the ULFA, the NDFB has been designated as a terrorist organization by the Indian national government.

The goal of the NDFB is to establish its own sovereign state called Bodoland for the ethnic Bodo people living in Northeast India. Also like the ULFA, the NDFB aims to rid Assam of immigrants and the influence of the Indian national government

The NDFB is estimated to have between 1,200 to 1,500 fighters in its forces, some of which killed 70 Bangladeshi immigrants as recently as Dec. 2014.

Insurgency in Assam

For people in Assam, violence has been a fact of life for over four decades. In the 1970s anti-immigration groups began a bloody campaign against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan), which continues there today.

To stem the violence the Indian army has stationed troops in the area since the 1990’s. However, their presence there has been only partly successful in reducing the activities of Assam’s militant groups, and the region remains in a state of turmoil.

Recently tensions between the Indian government and insurgents have bubbled to the surface again following terrorist attacks against immigrants at the end of 2014, which killed 33 people.

Behind the bloodshed, Assam remains an integral part of India’s oil production. According to the state website, Assam produces over half of India’s oil, and one sixth of the world’s tea.

These resources, however, may only be making matters worse, since the insurgents want to retain revenue from the natural resources in the area that they believe to be rightfully theirs.

The takeaway

While future peace talks may be possible, an anti-peace faction of the ULFA has held back progress. The leader of the anti-talks group is rumored to be in China.

The insurgency in Northeast India, though it pales in comparison to the breadth and ferocity of middle eastern nations like Yemen and Libya, has still managed to displace over 800,000 people (pdf) according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

James Pero