The News From Assam
Assam — now officially renamed “Asom” — has been in the news a lot lately. But the news isn’t good.
On September 24, Haridhan Das, the manager of the Hullunghabi tea estate was brutally gunned down by ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) militants with four bullets fired at close range [link].
That same night, a tea planter in Eastern Assam was confronted by ULFA militants demanding extortion money. Assamese police and intelligence officials say that during the month of September alone, the ULFA served extortion notices ranging from Rs. 1 million (USD 21,800) to Rs. 15 million (USD 327,500) to many of Assam’s roughly 800 tea estates. During the last 10 years, at least a dozen executives have been killed (and over 20 abducted) because of extortion by the ULFA. This most recent spate of terror by the ULFA has cast a grim spotlight on this beautiful region, the largest tea producer in the world, and home to 55% of India’s annual tea production.
So what’s going on?
An ULFA Primer
It might help to understand who or what ULFA is. ULFA got it’s start in 1979, labeling itself a revolutionary “political” organization engaged in an armed liberation struggle against India for the establishment of a sovereign, independent Assam. The Government of India designate ULFA as a terrorist organization, and accuse it of being in cohorts with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan.
It is important to note that they don’t consider themselves a “secessionist” movement in the true sense of the term – they claim that they were never a part of India to begin with.
The issue has deep roots in Assamese history. Assam traces it’s history to the Paleolithic age and has always been a confluence of peoples from the east, west and north. However, it had never been a colony to an external power until Burma invaded it in 1821 and then the British in 1826. The local Ahoms, who had ruled parts of present-day Assam for nearly 600 years, weren’t too pleased with the foreign invasions. After all, they had successfully staved off a Mughal invasion in 1682. so they weren’t about to surrender quietly. However, surrender they did, and it has left deep emotional scars that are manifesting themselves today in Assam.
This most recent spate of violence is a sign that ULFA is not about to give up. There have been numerous efforts at holding formal peace talks in recent years, but neither India nor ULFA are willing to give an inch. On Sunday, the Indian government resumed military operations against the ULFA, putting an end to a 6-week old ceasefire. My sincere hope is that Assamese citizens have grown weary of the insurgency and growing violence. But even if popular support is waning, as many people say it is, intelligence officials warn that support from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan are ensuring that ULFA continues to thrive.
Filed under: assam, burma, history, india, news, pakistan, ulfa | 2 Comments