The ‘secret killings’ of Assam in literature

The ‘secret killings’ of Assam in literature

The violent history of Assam is often considered marginal to the Indian nation, but literature can help readers understand the global implications of this.

The June 2013 publication of Aruni Kashyap's The House with a Thousand Stories (henceforth House) and the author's subsequent articles and interviews have put the spotlight back on the infamous period of the 'secret killings' in Assam. A recurring issue in the public sphere in Assam, but rarely discussed in a pan-Indian context, the 'secret killings' were a spate of extra-judicial killings between 1998 and 2001 which targeted mainly militants, their kinsfolk (both near and distant) and suspected sympathisers of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Ostensibly a retaliatory measure deployed by the surrendered ULFA militants (SULFA) as a counter to the acts of violence committed against them by their former comrades, and also aided and abetted by the state machinery, the secret killings were a brutal counter-insurgency tactic that followed a recurring, recognisable pattern. SULFA members, assisted by state security forces, would pick up their victims without warning at night. More often than not, the corpses would be found the next day. There were also incidents of entire families related to ULFA militants being gunned down at night.

This was the tragic fate of Umakanta Gogoi and his family, who were wiped out on the night of 11 September 1999 in Borbil Gaon, in Assam's Sibsagar district. Dismembered body parts of people who were made to 'disappear' turned up in the Brahmaputra and in the numerous beels (swamps) and embankments across Assam. These murders also led to a cycle of revenge killings by the ULFA, the most well-known probably being the Moran Polo Ground encounter of 2001, in which many SULFA leaders from Sibsagar and Dibrugarh were assassinated. The K N Saikia Commission, which was set up to investigate these incidents, largely put the blame on then-Chief Minister Prafulla Mahanta, although the state police, the army and the SULFA were possibly jointly responsible.

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