A total of 2,009 cadres of the Dilip Nunisa faction of Dima Halam Daogah (DHD-N) surrendered on March 9, 2013.
Those who surrendered include 691 armed cadres (39 of them women) and 1,318 overground workers known as 'public relations officers'. The cadres deposited a total of 144 assorted weapons, including AK-series assault rifles, Light Machine Guns (LMGs), M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, besides rockets, grenades, and 137 magazines and 4,408 rounds of ammunition. Dissolving the outfit, its 'chairman', Dilip Nunisa, pledged all cooperation with the Government for the implementation of ongoing development projects in the areas of the group's influence.
Earlier, Jewel Garlosa, the head of the Jewel Garlosa faction of DHD (DHD-J), also known as Black Widow (BW), had formally disbanded the DHD-J / BW on November 26, 2012. Garlosa had then told reporters of the decision to dissolve DHD-J and float a new group in the form of a non-governmental organisation to "focus on bringing socio-economic development in the Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council (DHATC). I want the people of Dima Hasao District to maintain peace and join hands on the road to progress."
The formal disbanding of both the factions followed the joint signing of a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) with the Central and the State Governments on October 8, 2012. The MoS noted that "as part of the restructuring and empowerment process, the existing North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) will be renamed as the Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council (DHATC)". It further stated that "a special economic package of INR 20 billion (INR 4 billion per annum) over and above the Plan fund over the next five years will be provided to the yet to be formed DHATC to undertake special projects by the Council."
The original (undivided) DHD was formed by remnants of the first Dimasa militant group, Dimasa National Security Force (DNSF). The DNSF, formed in 1990, surrendered en masse on November 17, 1994, under the leadership of its 'chairman' Bharat Langthasa. In 1996, however, Jewel Garlosa formed the DHD, with a principal demand for a separate state for the Dimasa tribe, Dimaraji, comprising the Dimasa inhabited Dima Hasao District (then known as North Cachar Hills District); parts of Karbi Anglong, Nagaon and Cachar Districts, and the Dimapur area of Nagaland.
The DHD suffered a split when Pranab Nunisa, the head of DHD's 'military wing', ousted Jewel Garlosa, the then DHD 'president', and replaced him with Dilip Nunisa, on June 24, 2004. The split led to a turf war between the two resulting groups. 14 militants, nine of DHD-N and five of BW, were killed in fratricidal confrontations between the two sides between 2004 and 2009. No such incident has been reported since.
Nevertheless, the security environment deteriorated significantly, with a total of 188 insurgency-related fatalities reported in the District between 2004 and 2009. Of these, 181 were linked to the DHD alone, while four of the remaining were connected with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM); two with the Khaplang faction of NSCN (NSCN-K); and one wth the Hmar People´s Convention-Democracy (HPC-D). Since 2010, a total of 18 such fatalities have been reported: three in 2010; six in 2011; nine in 2012; and none (till date) in 2013. While five of these killings were linked to DHD, four each were linked to the Dimasa National Revolutionary Front (DNRF) and NSCN-IM; three to NSCN-K; and one each to Hill tiger Force (HTF) and Dimasa National Democratic Front (DNDF).
The number of fatalities in the District dropped sharply after 2009 due to the arrest of DHD-J / BW 'chairman' Jewel Garlosa from Bangalore on [June 4, 2009]. Subsequently, about 372 DHD-J / BW rebels laid down arms in September 2009. The outfit deposited 136 weapons, including AK-47 and M-16 rifles, rocket launchers and grenades. The interim bail granted to Jewel Garlosa by Gauhati High Court on November 20, 2012, is believed to be the reason behind the 'early' disbanding of the group on November 26, 2012, as compared to the DHD-N's dissolution on March 9, 2013, after the signing of the MoS on October 8, 2012. DHD-N had earlier planned to disband in December 2012, hoping that the amended Territorial Council Bill would be passed by Parliament by then. A three-point memorandum was submitted to Union Home Minister (UHM) Sushil Kumar Shinde, demanding that the bill be passed in the winter session of Parliament and the DHAC elections be held on time. Although, both the conditions are yet to be fulfilled, the group has now been disbanded.
With the two groups formally dissolved, and both factions, for the time being, giving up their principal demands for a Dimasa State and for the inclusion of more than 90 Dimasa villages in neighbouring Districts of Cachar and Nagaon, it is expected that there will be some respite from violence in Dima Hasao District, a troubled terrain extending across 4,890 square kilometres.
There are, nevertheless, some enduring impediments.
First, despite the two groups coming together to sign the joint MoS with the Government, the reconciliation between them remains tricky, given the animosity between the factions. Second, even within the DHD-J / BW leadership, there are differences regarding the sharing and use of financial and other organisational assets. The cases pending against the leaders of these two factions are another irritant. The DHD-J / BW leadership is hoping for an amnesty on the pattern that was extended to the Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT) cadres. A close aide of DHD-J / BW 'commander-in-chief' Niranjan Hojai observed in November 2012, "We are not yet aware of the steps the Government will be taking regarding the cases against us. Cases against members of the BLT outfit were withdrawn after the signing of the peace pact. We hope the Government would take a similar approach in our case too,". In a written reply in the State Assembly on March 25, 2013, Panchayat & Rural Development, Environment & Forest Minister, Rockybul Hussain stated that criminal cases registered against members of the DHD-N and DHD-J / BW outfits for 'non-heinous crimes' may be withdrawn by the State Government as per procedure established by law. Hussain, however emphasised that criminal cases registered for 'heinous crimes' would be reviewed 'case by case' in consonance with the existing policy on the subject, and, wherever feasible, steps for withdrawal of such cases would be initiated by the State Government.
Another potential roadblock is the divide amongst the Dimasa and non-Dimasa tribesmen. The District's population of 213,529, according to the 2011 Census, is distributed between Dimasa, Kuki, Zeme Naga, Baite, Hrangkhawl, Vaiphei, Karbi, Khasi-Pnar and Khelma tribesmen. Besides, non-tribal groups, including Nepali and Bengali settlers, also inhibit the District.
A section of non-Dimasa tribesmen is opposing the MoS. The Indigenous People's Front (IPF), an organisation of non-Dimasa tribes, claims that non-Dimasa communities outnumber the Dimasas in the District, and wants a separate autonomous council. Atheng Luingthang, the IPF President, states, "We want a separate council for the Dimasa and another one for us." Luingthang warned that if the present Territorial Council is not abolished and bifurcation is not done, the State and Central Governments will be responsible for another round of ethnic turmoil. The tribes and communities in the District have polarised since the renaming of the North Cachar Hills District as Dima Hasao District on April 1, 2010. This action compounded earlier grievances that culminated into two major ethnic clashes - Hmar-Dimasa in 2003 and Dimasa-Zeme Naga in 2009. While more than 50 persons were killed in clashes in 2003, over 70 lives were lost in the 2009 clashes.
Further, a host of smaller Dimasa militant formations, including the National Dimasa Protection Army (NDPA), DNRF, Dima Jadi Naiso Army (DJNA) and Dimasa National Liberation Front (DNLF), still continue to operate in the District, in addition to non-Dimasa groups such as NSCN-IM, NSCN-K and HTF. Security Forces (SFs) reportedly recovered 31 arms in Dima Hasao during 2012, and seized some 2,967 rounds of ammunition from the two Hill Districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, out of a total of 9,373 rounds of ammunition recovered across the State.
In addition, given the nature of past agreements/surrenders, in the Northeast, it will be premature to judge the outcome of the latest surrender saga. 'Surrendered' groups in the past have reneged; others have retained their armed cadres and engaged in extortion and other criminal activities; elements within 'surrendered' groups have 'gone underground' again; lopsided 'peace agreements' have become the centre of a fractious ethnic politics; unresolved issues have suppurated into overt ethnic conflagrations; and the best of 'solutions' in the Northeast have failed to produce a semblance of good governance.
Nevertheless, the dissolution of the DHD factions is another positive development in Assam, a State that has witnessed a declining trend in insurgency-related fatalities, from a peak of 783 in 1998 to 91 in 2012. At least four major militant formations operating across Assam have surrendered over the past years, and another 12 have joined peace talks. It remains to be seen whether the State and Central leaderships have the sagacity and competence to translate the opportunities of the moment into an enduring peace.
(The writer Giriraj Bhattacharjee is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)