By Giriraj Bhattacharjee
On October 8, 2012, the Central and the State Governments signed a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) with both factions of the Dima Halim Daogah – the Dilip Nunisa faction (DHD-N) and the Jewel Garlosa faction [(DHD-J also known as Black Widow (BW) ], eight years after the signing of a ceasefire agreement with the undivided DHD. The formal MoS signing ceremony held at North Block, New Delhi, was attended by Union Home Minister (UHM), Sushil Kumar Shinde, Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, the Centre’s interlocutor, P.C. Haldar, Union Home Secretary, R.K. Singh, Assam Chief Secretary, Naba Kumar Das, Assam Director General of Police (DGP), J.N. Choudhury, as well as the top leaders of the rival factions of DHD. The MoS was signed by Dilip Nunisa and Jewel Garlosa on behalf of the DHD factions, and by Joint Secretary (North-East), Shambhu Singh and Assam Principal Secretary Home and Political, Sailesh.
UHM Shinde used the occasion to invite other insurgent groupings to abjure violence, stating, “I urge all such groups to give up violence and come for settlement with Government of India.”
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs release dated October 8, 2012, the MoS provides for enhanced autonomy for the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC), which has been rechristened as Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council (DHATC), and a special package for socio-economic and educational development of the area has also been announced. Under the MoS, a committee would be constituted to deal with matters relating to the Sixth Schedule Councils. The DHD will disband itself as an organisation within a ‘reasonable time’, specified as six months, as a precursor to the Government initiating further processes to implement the decisions of the agreement. A special economic package of INR 2 billion (INR 400 million per annum), over and above the Plan allocation, for the next five years will be provided to the DHATC, to undertake special projects. Thirty-nine subjects will be transferred to the Council under Para 3A of the sixth Schedule of the Constitution, conferring legislative powers. The State Government has agreed, in principle, to set up a Development Council with a suitable package for preservation and promotion of Dimasa culture and language.
The increase in the strength of the Territorial Council is intended to ensure suitable representation to all communities. The provision for setting up village level Councils for devolution of powers to the grassroots are intended to benefit non-Dimasa tribals as well. The MoS specifically states that the heritage sites of non-Dimasa indigenous tribals are to be preserved and maintained. The present District is to be trifurcated into three administrative Divisions. The Central Government and both the DHD factions have entrusted the State Government with the task of dividing the Dima Hasao District. Further, Dimasas living in the plains of Assam, especially in Cachar and Nagaon, known as Barman and Hojai respectively, will now be officially renamed as Dimasa Kachari.
The DHATC is the third Territorial Council to be formed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Earlier, Bodo [Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC)] and Karbi [Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council (KAATC)] militant groups had settled for similar councils.
Dima Hasao District is a sparsely populated area of 4,890 square kilometers, with a population of 213,529. It is home to as many as 18 Hill tribes, and has extensive unguarded borders with the insurgency-affected States of Manipur and Nagaland. In the absence of any inter-State border outposts, the border has turned into a free corridor for militants. The Dimasas constitute the single largest tribal group, estimated at 43per cent of the District’s total population.
The struggle for a separate homeland for the Dimasas became an armed struggle with the formation of the Dimasa National Security Force (DNSF) in 1990. DNSF ‘chairman’ Bharat Langthasa and a large number of cadres, however, surrendered on November 17, 1994. Later, renegades led by Jewel Garlosa floated the Dima Hasao Daogah (DHD) in 1995. A ceasefire agreement was signed between the DHD leadership and the Central Government on January 1, 2003. However, Jewel Garlosa broke away to form the DHD-J also known as BW, at some time in 2004. ‘Commander-in-Chief’ Pranab Nunisa and ‘Vice-President’ Dilip Nunisa took charge of what was left of the DHD after the split, and called it DHD-N. The undivided DHD team had met the then Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on September 23, 2004, and had submitted a memorandum demanding a separate homeland for the Dimasa tribals. Meanwhile, BW indulged in large-scale violence. On March 8, 2008, Jewel Garlosa was arrested in Bangalore. The following year, two batches of BW militants surrendered along with their weapons.
Both the factions have a combined estimated strength of about 1000 cadres, and were fighting for a separate State of ‘Dimaraji’ for the Dimasa (‘sons of the great river’) tribe, comprising Dimasa dominated areas of the North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong Districts of Assam, and parts of the Dimapur District in Nagaland.
A Draft MoS was signed with DHD-J/BW in 2011, and with DHD-N on June 12, 2012.The final MoS came after long-drawn negotiations that included several rounds of talks in which both the factions gave up their demand for a separate State. DHD-N’s demand for the inclusion of an additional 94 villages spread over adjoining Districts of Cachar, Karbi Anglong and Nagaon, was rejected. The DHD-N demand to rename the territorial council as Dimaraji was also not accepted by the Government. The demand for withdrawal of cases, particularly those involving heinous crimes, was also not accepted.
Though the accord incorporates both the major Dimasa militant factions, its implementation may not be smooth. The two factions have an intense rivalry; there are a multiplicity of pending cases against leaders of DHD-J/BW factions; and the Dimasa groups face significant opposition from the non-Dimasa tribal population in the District. According to a February 8, 2012 report, the two DHD factions had been regularly violating ceasefire rules in the State. As many as 462 militants from these groups had been arrested on charges of extortion, abduction and other crimes since their respective ceasefires – 2003 for DHD-N and 2009 for DHD-J / BW. 82 weapons were seized from their cadres. The DHD factions were also involved in Hmar-Dimasa, Dimasa-Karbi and Dimasa-Zeme Naga ethnic clashes in Dima Hasao in the years 2003, 2005 and 2009, respectively.
Significantly, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) have charged top leaders of the DHD-J / BW faction, including Garlosa and Niranjan Hojai, for various crimes. NIA started an investigation into DHD-J / BW siphoning off central funds from the NC Hills Autonomous Council to buy arms in 2009. ED has registered a case against Niranjan Hojai under the provisions of the Money Laundering Act. Further, according to a May 30, 2012, report, the Central Government has written to the Nepal Government requesting the latter to attach Hojai’s properties in that country. The Government of Nepal has identified properties worth over INR 50 million so far, including a plot of land and a three story building in Kathmandu.
Further, security agencies believe that the rivalry between the two factions, which has led to the killing of many cadres on either side, is unlikely to subside. On unnamed source observed, “The rivalry will not go away. The two factions will now be fighting each other to take control of the autonomous council.” One such incident has already been reported since the signing of the MoS. On October 12, 2012, DHD-N lodged complaints with Dispur and Delhi, alleging that DHD-J / BW cadres had opened fire on one of their camps at Maibong on October 11.
The District had also witnessed violence by other militant formations, prior to the MoS signing ceremony. On October 7, 2012, militants from the Hills Tiger Force (HTF), a group fighting for the bifurcation of the Dima Hasao District, carried out two explosions in different parts of Haflong town. Before this, on October 5, 2012, suspected Naga militants sprayed bullets at the 15695 Down Agartala Express at a place between Bagetar and Lower Haflong Stations in Dima Hasao. However, there was no casualty.
The accord has also been cold shouldered by non-Dimasa tribal bodies, which are seeking a bifurcation of the District. The president of the NC Hills Indigenous Students Forum (NCHISF), the student wing of the Indigenous People Forum (IPF), L. Hlima Keivom, on October 8, 2012, declared, “The Government of Assam has changed the neutral name of the District from North Cachar Hills into Dima Hasao on 30th March, 2010, amidst stiff opposition of the non-Dimasa communities. The literal meaning of ‘Dima Hasao’ is a land of Dimasa. But in reality the N.C. Hills is a land of many ethnic communities since time immemorial… before any peace pact for a Territorial Council or whatsoever is signed by the Government with the militant group of the DHD-J, the concerned Government should not make another big mistake as it had done in the past. The Government should rather first consider the demand of the IPF to bifurcate the District into two autonomous districts with separate autonomous Councils under the very constitutional framework of Art 244 (2) of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India.” Significantly, the earlier renaming of the District from N.C.Hills to Dima Hasao had led to major trouble.
Another non-Dimasa militant group active in the region purportedly represents the interests of the minority Naga population. Factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) have made repeated forays into the District and collaborate with small local groups . Parts of the District fall into the imagined ‘Greater Nagaland’ or Nagalim that the NSCN factions seek to establish.
Worse, a new armed Dimasa outfit, Dima Jadi Naiso Army (DJNA), has now come into existence and, on October 16, 2012, sent a note containing a 12-point charter of demands, aims and objectives, to local media persons. The Press Note, signed by Bhaipa Dimasa, Jering Dimasa and Rinjen Dimasa, the ‘chairman’, ‘commander-in-chief’ and ‘secretary’ of DJNA, respectively, declared that the group was fighting for the creation of Dimaraji (‘Land of Dimasas’), including the Dimasa-inhabited areas of Assam and Nagaland.
The militant organisations active in the District include the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the Khaplang faction of NSCN (NSCN-K), HTF, Dimasa National Revolutionary Front (DNRF) and National Dimasa Protection Army (NDPA). Further, the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) and Hmar People’s Convention-Democratic (HPC-D) are in ceasefire with Government, while the Dimasa National Democratic Front (DNDF) has surrendered.
Further, despite the MoS, DHD-N has not given up its demand for a separate ‘Dimaraji’ State. On October 12, 2012, DHD-N leader Nunisa reiterated the demand for Dimaraji, asserting that this objective would now be pursued democratically.
Notwithstanding the MoS, it is evident that the horizon remains unclear, and it remains uncertain whether the accord will bring lasting peace to the District. Only a positive outcome of the Naga peace process in neighbouring Nagaland, and the political accommodation of the non-Dimasa tribes within the Dima Hasao, can ensure and enduring peace in the region.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management