ASSAM'S HIDDEN WAR
In the remote North Cachar Hills in India’s northeast, the Indian army is doggedly hunting the “Black Widow”, the most recalcitrant insurgent group in the region, active since 2003, and fighting for a separate state within India for Dimasas, the largest tribal group in this hill district.
The Indian government’s aggressive stance against this group is symptomatic of a seismic shift in the country’s policy of tackling terrorism. India is disreputably the most attacked nation on earth after war-torn Iraq, according to the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System. But beyond Islamic militants from neighboring Pakistan, it faces a key security risk from its myriad home-grown insurgent groups on its own soil. After a new government was recently sworn-in in New Delhi, India’s home minister, P. Chidambaram, in his “100-day agenda” – the work cut out for his first 100 days in office -- outlined that he would make fighting Naxalities (India’s Maoist rebels active across 13 of India’s 28 states) and insurgent groups in the country’s northeast, his chief priority.
And while the government will not disclose its strategy, the troops surge (from 60 companies of the Indian army to 75 in recent days) in the NC hills district – a sparsely populated 5,000 sq km tribal hilly region – is indicative of its new no-tolerance approach towards insurgents.
But there is disturbing evidence that suggests the Indian army is using other rival rebel groups (equally notorious and accused of brutal killings, extortions and gunrunning) as proxies in its war against the “Black Widow”. Some of these groups are being armed and used as paramilitaries to fight them in the difficult jungle terrain. [Interviewed multiple sources that confirm this].
Parallel to this military operation, North Cachar Hills is engulfed in a vicious cycle of ethnic violence. Insurgent groups, no one knows exactly which (though the army suspects the “Black Widow”) is burning down village after village, reducing them to killing fields and displacing thousands of tribals.
text: Anuj Chopra