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DHD (N) and UPDS Agree to Ceasefire

Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • March 26, 2008

    People living in the two hill districts of Assam – North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong –witnessed a dim ray of hope for peace on March 18, 2008, when the Dima Halam Daogah (Nunisa) faction [DHD (N)] and the United Peoples’ Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) signed a ceasefire. The ceasefire came about during a joint meeting at Diphu, capital of Karbi Anglong, which was facilitated by the district’s Deputy Commissioner Dr. M. Angamuthu. The two groups have pledged to co-operate with the district administrations of North Cachar hills and Karbi Anglong for establishing peace. The March 18 cease-fire ground rules state that both outfits will stop targeting each other, provide information on cadre movements to the other in order to avoid accidental killings and limit their activities to the officially designated cease-fire camps. Most importantly, the ground rules also include the holding of regular joint consultations between the two outfits to find the best possible way of implementing the conditions laid out in the cease-fire. By itself, the truce assumes significance as it is for the first time in the North East that two insurgent groups fighting over over-lapping territory have signed such an agreement.

    But the question remains whether the truce will hold, given that both outfits have had violent exchanges in the past and demand a Dimaraji and Karbi state, respectively, on over-lapping territory. Interviews conducted by the author with DHD (N) President and self-styled Commander-in-Chief, Pranob Nunisa, and Chairperson, Dilip Nunisa, in January 2008 revealed that both leaders are adamant in their demand for the creation of a separate Dimasa state within India, comprising areas of Karbi Anglong, parts of Nagoan and Cachar District in Assam, the entire North Cachar Hills as well as certain areas in Nagaland. The DHD (N)’s claims on areas in Nagaland ranges it against the NSCN (IM) and the latter’s claim for a Greater Nagaland. For its part, the UPDS leadership demands a Karbi state to be carved out of the same territory – Karbi Anglong district and parts of Nagaon district in Assam.

    The decision to sign a ceasefire is perhaps informed by a common enemy – the DHD-(Garlosa) [DHD-(G)] faction led by the original founder of the DHD, Jewel Garlosa. The DHD had split in March 2003 after Jewel Garlosa refused to sign a cease-fire with the Union Government on January 1, 2003. Infamously known as “the Black Widow’, the DHD-G is a reclusive group based in the thickly forested areas of Maibang subdivision, Mahur, Laisong, Harangajao, Boro-Haflong and Haflong area of North Cachar Hills. Since its inception in 2003, it has wreaked havoc in both Karbi Anglong and North Cachar hills.

    The worst of Black Widow violence occurred in October 2005 when it ravaged the UPDS in Karbi Anglong by killing more than 30 of its cadres and supporters. It has also hit out at the DHD-(N) faction by targeting its leaders like Naring Daulagapu in 2006 as well as its cadres since 2003 especially in the Dhansiri reserve forest area in Karbi Anglong. Just before the June 12, 2007 (postponed to December 2007) North Cachar Hills District Council elections, it eliminated three local Congress leaders with supposed links to the DHD (N). By killing high profile local politicians and targeting the DHD (N) and UPDS, the Black Widow has sought to assert its power in these remote areas of Assam. Police intelligence indicates that the outfit has been helped by the NSCN (IM) in its operations against the DHD (N) and the UPDS. Thus, despite its meagre cadre base of 150 to 200, the outfit has been successful in striking fear. In this situation, it makes political sense for the DHD (N) and the UPDS to sign a truce and join hands against a common threat. Both outfits have also signed cease-fire agreements with the Union Government. Predictably, therefore, the current cease-fire between the two groups will hold so long as the Black Widow sustains its ability to threaten them. Despite this, the ceasefire augurs well for civil society groups like the Karbi Apex Body, the Karbi Women’s Association, the Dimasa Apex Body, and the Dimasa Women’s Association. These local civil society bodies have been requesting the insurgent leaderships to come to a common understanding to end violence for many years now. However, for an overall atmosphere of peace to prevail, activities like extortions and kidnapping by the Black Widow need to be prevented. The March 13, 2008 kidnapping by the Black Widow of three employees of the Maharask East-West Corridor road construction project in North Cachar Hills in broad daylight indicates the government’s inability to sustain basic law and order in these remote areas. Moreover, the Black Widow targets smaller tribes like the Kukis, Hmars and Vaipheis living in these areas, which in turn has forced the latter to take up arms in self defence, leading to a vicious cycle of violence.

    In this context, the truce between the DHD (N) and the UPDS could be beneficial for peace if utilised profitably. Given their numerical strength, terrain knowledge and cultural familiarity, armed cadres of these insurgent outfits should be gradually rehabilitated into “Special Local Forces” units funded by the state to safeguard not only their own ethnic kin but also smaller tribes from the violent activities of the Black Widow. Such a course would also provide these capable yet misguided youths an alternate means of livelihood in an otherwise economically desolate landscape. It is also important to institutionalise the present cease-fire agreement, and engage civil society actors to monitor and implement the cease-fire. This would limit the possibility of a future revocation of the cease-fire, as and when the Black Widow is weakened and the glue that holds DHD (N) and UPDS comes unstuck. Though the March 18 cease-fire is short on the promise of complete peace in these areas, it does have the potential to make the two insurgent groups behave responsibly and live up to their stated objectives of benefiting the societies they claim to represent.