Adivasi Colony Put Down Crossbows After Decades of Unrest, Welcome Peace Pact

Fifty-nine-year-old Bhaiya Mohan Soren was watching evening local news on his television with attention on Thursday evening in the Durgapur Adivasi Colony at Bengtol subdivision of Bongaigaon district, Assam.

Soren was joined by several from the Adivasi community to watch the live telecast of the historical signing of the tripartite peace accord between the central and state governments and eight tribal groups, including five organisations from their community.

The agreement between the central and state governments and the eight groups, including All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA), Adivasi Cobra Militant of Assam (ACMA), Birsa Commando Force (BCF), Santhal Tiger Force (STF), and Adivasi People’s Army (APA), was signed in New Delhi in presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma among others.

“These outfits were formed to ensure our security and safety before 1996. It’s good thinking and great initiative from all concerns. The accord in a praiseworthy beginning in the right direction” Soren told News18.

Soren who’s on the verge of retiring as a school teacher at the local government school was in his early thirties when he along with 97 families from nine villages of Bengtol had to take shelter in refugee camps when they were attacked by Bodo militants.

In 1997, each family were given Rs 10,000, promised security by the government and were asked to return to their respective villages. Ironically, mayhem returned to their lives in 1988 when they were forced to flee their villages and sought refuge at Bengtol veterinary campus. Till May 2010, all the families languished in their refugee camps until the then government offered Rs 50,000 per family and asked them to vacate the camp.

After buying land, fear of uncertainty forced the community to continue guarding the colony at night with crossbows. “Seventy-five families bought land with the government grant and we have been living here since then. We have named our colony Durgapur Adivasi Colony. From our refugee camp days till today, we sleep with bows and arrows. We were so terrified that we needed to guard our camp at night and we all participated in turns. Besides all other promises, this accord shall also reaffirm us as Adivasi. Normally people here mistake us as representatives from the tea garden community” Soren said.

Continue Demand for ST Status

He further said they will continue their fight for the Scheduled Tribes (ST) status. “However, our primary demand is the ST status which still eludes us. I earnestly hope that this headway shall lead to the accomplishment of our core demand” added Soren.

“historic moment for Assam”

In a series of tweets, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma hailed the “historic moment for Assam” as 5 Adivasi militant outfits and 3 splinter groups (from BCF, AANLA and ACMA) signed a peace pact with the Centre and Assam government.

“Cadres of these outfits have been living in designated camps since 2016 when their 1,182 cadres laid down arms & returned to the mainstream. I’m sure today’s historic pact that promises adequate rehabilitation of the once misguided youth will usher in a new era of peace in Assam”, Sarma said in a tweet.

The peace agreement was signed in presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma at the Ministry of Home Affairs in North Block. Union Minister Rameswar Teli, State Minister for Labour Welfare Department Sanjoy Kishan, MP Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, MP Pallab Lochan Das, Chief Secretary PK Borthakur, Principal Secretary to CM Samir Kumar Sinha, Principal Secretary, Home Niraj Verma, DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta and ADGP Hiren Nath also attended the event.

The armed groups have agreed to abjure violence and join the peaceful democratic process as established by law of the land. The peace pact also provides for the rehabilitation of cadres of the armed groups.

All Adivasi National Liberation Army, Birsa Commando Force, Santhal Tiger Force, Adivasi Cobra Militant of Assam and Adivasi People’s Army have been in a ceasefire with the government since 2016. Since then, the cadres of the militant outfits are living in designated camps.

A total of 1,182 cadres of the five militant groups and three factions laid down their arms and returned to the mainstream. Over 156 arms, 887 ammunition, 21 grenades and 7 IEDs were handed over to the authorities by the militant outfits. The Chief Minister said the signing of the agreement will usher in a new era of peace and harmony in Assam.

Except for the Paresh Baruah-led hardline faction of the banned ULFA and the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation, all other rebel groups active in the state have now entered into peace agreements with the government.

In January 2020, Shah presided over the signing of an agreement between the Centre, Assam and Bodo representatives in New Delhi to end the over 50-year-old Bodo crisis that has cost the region over 4,000 lives.

Bloody Conflict

In 1996, violent clashes between Bodos and Adivasis claimed 198 lives and led to the displacement of 2,02,684 people from both the communities in Kokrajhar and the undivided Bongaigaon districts. In 1998, clashes between the two communities claimed 186 lives and displaced about 94,000 people.

The five insurgent outfits, ACMA, APA, STF, BCF and AANLA, fighting for ST status signed a Suspension of Operations (SOO) Agreement with the Centre and Assam government and surrendered their arms on January 24, 2012, to join the peace process.​

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