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End in Sight to Conflict Between India and Bodos

On February 10, 2003, the government of India signed an agreement with the leaders of the Bodoland Liberation Tiger Force (BLT), signaling what may be the end of six years of violent conflict which has killed thousands, according to BBC News. The Bodo won concessions of autonomy from the government, including the establishment of a Bodoland Territorial Council to represent the interests of the 1.6 million indigenous Bodos in the northeastern state of Assam.

Some – though not all – Bodo leaders hailed the agreement, and said it will pave the way for greater freedom and a better future for Bodos. The agreement was signed in the presence of the deputy prime minister of India, Assam government officials and leadears of the BLT in Delhi.

But not all residents of Assam, or Bodos for that matter, were pleased to hear the news. Strikes erupted in non-Bodo parts of the state in response to the deal, as many non-Bodo groups expressed their concerns that the new Council will marginalize them in Assam society. Other Bodo rebel leaders from the National Democratic Front of Bodoland pledged to continue their fight for a separate independent Bodoland. The Bodos make up 13 percent of the 26 million people of Assam. They are the largest indigenous community in the region, and are one of the indigenous ethno-linguistic groups of the Tibeto-Burman language family. Though spread in different parts of India, as well as, in the neighboring countries, they primarily live in Assam.

The accord signifies more than just a peace agreement between India and BLT. The two parties intend to build a new political structure, one that would represent both the indigenous and non-indigenous population of Assam. The Indian government supports the creation of the 46-member Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), which will deal with various tribal affairs. Out of the 46 members, 30 would be reserved for tribals, 5 for non-tribals living in BTC areas, and five other seats open to all. The remaining six seats will be filled by the government of Assam, who would choose members of the least or un-represented communities. The government also plans to financially assist further infrastructural development of the BTC areas for the next five years.

Still, recent protests and strikes indicate the fear of the non-Bodos living in what will be the BTC, that Bodos will gain power over their communities and perhaps drive them out. They have threatened further economic blockages and disruption to protest the agreement throughout the northeastern region of India.