Riots in Assam

There has been terrible violence in India’s Assam region recently and the violence has spread to other parts of India.  Since this is a blog on China, not India, I am not going to dig too much into the cause or even meaning of the riots.  But I do want to point out the relatively “favorable” coverage India is getting.

In almost all reports I see, India is cast as the force of stability (and humanity), with the forces of conniving politicians and ethnic-based politics the root of instability.  By comparison, when ethnic violence occurs in China, the opposite story is told, with ethnic-based politics held in high regard (under the guise of “human rights”) and any efforts to stabilize the situation seen as somehow oppressive and barbaric.

You see this fairly uniformly across Western media in all Western countries, including even self-professed “independent” news sources such as the global post.  Here is a recent article global post had on Tibetan self immolations – which place the blame squarely on China.  The Tibetans who burned themselves – and by extension the Tibetans who rioted in 2008 – were seen as oppressed people who had a right to riot, to fight back and were cheered on for their presumptive courage. There was never a reference to the official Chinese perspective on what’s really going on.

By contrast, here is an excerpt of global post’s recent article on Assam.

As ethnically distinct Indians from the country’s northeastern states flee in panic from some of India’s most forward-looking metropolises, the ugly Indian phenomenon of “riot politics” looks poised for a comeback.

Too often in India’s history, whether in Gujarat in 2002, Ayodha in 1992 or New Delhi in 1984, political leaders of all stripes have encouraged or capitalized on inter-ethnic violence to polarize the electorate and distract voters from issues — like their failure to provide power, water and roads — that go beyond caste and creed. Academics like Ashutosh Varshney and Steven I Wilkinson have argued convincingly that India’s riots are rarely, if ever, the spontaneous eruptions of rage they may appear to be from outside. Rather, “parties that represent elites within ethnic groups” use anti-minority protests, demonstrations and physical attacks that precipitate riots in order to “encourage members of their wider ethnic category to identify with their party and the ‘majority’ identity to rather than a party that is identified with economic redistribution or some ideological agenda,” as Wilkinson once put it in an essay for The Economic and Political Weekly.

So it looks like that the real issues of politics – even of democratic discourse – should be on concrete matters – matters such as like the government’s ability to provide power, water and roads.  It’s not on ethnic-based politics that polarize the populace and distract citizens from the goal of substantive development.

Why are basic truths such as this always missing in reports regarding ethnic violence in China?

So is that what we’re witnessing now?

This July, seemingly spontaneous violence erupted in the northeast Indian state of Assam, with members of the Bodo tribe clashing with Bengali-speaking Muslims. Local Bodo leaders and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwarts like L.K. Advani immediately argued that the cause of the conflict was illegal immigration from Bangladesh, a regular feature of the right wing fear campaign that proposes a (fictional)* Muslim horde is fast overwhelming India’s Hindu majority.** On social media, right-leaning tweeters and bloggers slammed Indian television channels for their tardiness in covering the attacks — arguing that a pro-Congress party bias prevented NDTV and CNN/IBN from publicizing riots in a Congress-ruled state, in contrast to the media frenzy that followed the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in BJP-ruled Gujarat.

In the end, around 80 people were reportedly killed (far fewer than in Gujarat, incidentally). But some 400,000 people were forced to flee from their homes. Rioters set fire to houses, schools and public buses. Eventually, the central government deployed para military troops and 13 columns of the army to the affected areas–issuing shoot-on-sight orders and enforcing a curfew in the district that was the epicenter of the violence.

This is where a legally-prescribed sense of professionalism need to be built into the media.  You can call it censorship, or whatever.  But influential constituents of society – especially media and influential bloggers – should never have a free rein to fan the public’s fears when the fears are palpable and can turn into violence that tear apart the basic fabric of a society.

Some people may think that the solution to the problem of free speech is more speech.  That sounds good as a worthwhile goal, perhaps.  Thus, as Justice Louis Brandeis said once, “Sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

But one must not be blind to reality; one should always take into account facts on the ground.

If you have a bunch of hateful racists – more speech by them is not going to reveal to them their hateful ways.  More speech will only fan their hatred.  If you allow drug manufacturers to make claims and counter claims about each other’s drugs to the public, misinformation and confusion, not the truth, will emerge.  Free speech does not necessarily beget truth. In fact truth often can only derive from highly regulated discourse (think the scientific process, peer review, where truth requires rigorous processes and does not come about merely winning popular contest in the marketplace of information, or disinformation, as the case may be).

In any case, the proposition that we should let people have laissez faire right to do whatever they want – that over time they will come to their senses – that is absurd. Irresponsible speech must be regulated as any conduct with real consequences is.

Next the article goes into how rumorism and inciteful speech may be at the bottom of the recent spate of violence across India.

Various sources traced the start of the violence to the alleged murder of four Bengali-speaking Muslims, which the police failed to solve, or to the killing of four former Bodo Liberation Tigers on July 20, or to the death of two Bodo student leaders on July 4. Rumors spread that the state’s Muslims had planned the violence in advance, and that the Bodos had amassed weapons before the riots broke out in preparation for a pogrom. And, of course, everybody chose whichever version best suited his political views on Bangladeshi migrants, the Congress Party, and the supposed Muslim peril. (See “The Myth of the Bangladeshi and Violence in Assam” here).

This month, the violence has spread to other states, with Muslim groups apparently targeting ethnic minorities from the northeast (not only Bodos) in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune.

Mumbai police on Sunday arrested and charged 23 people with murder, following weekend riots that resulted in the death of two people and serious injuries to more than 50 others, according to News Live.

The police suspect that the violence was pre-meditated and allege that unspecified instigators spread the word through Facebook and text messages, News Live said.

Meanwhile, police in nearby Pune have claimed that attacks on people from the northeast in that city may have been linked to the Mumbai incident, as the same video clips (of killings in Myanmar) were used to incite violence there.

Senior police officials said it appears that the video clips were being circulated in a most systematic manner to threaten peace and engineer riots, India’s Daily News & Analysis newspaper reported.

Across the country, thousands of northeasterners living in Bangalore piled into trains for Guwahati (in Assam) on Wednesday night, after rumors spread that they, too, would soon be targeted for violent attacks, the Hindu reports.

I am truly surprised by how little sympathy the global post shows for the rioters.  Their acts are described as murders, violence.  I could find no word that gleefully roots for the oppressed to rise up for more.

The article goes on:

All that would be bad enough, but things promise to get worse, if India’s notoriously cynical politicians succeed in turning these riots into an election issue — thus guaranteeing that the bad feelings fester and eventually boil over again.

After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s lackluster Independence Day speech Wednesday, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi should have had plenty to criticize him for — given that the PM essentially repeated the excuses he’s been mouthing for the past two years. But in focusing on the riots, and Bangladeshi migrants, he hinted that the man who once called relief camps for Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots “breeding centers” has not undergone a complete transformation.

“The infiltration of Bangladeshis in India is becoming an issue of concern. Assam (violence) is just a small example of it becoming a major problem for the nation,” Modi said, according to the Daily Bhaskar.

“Why the Prime Minister has remained silent on the violence in Mumbai, while he expressed remorse on the violent protests in Assam? Why this dual standards? How can a Prime Minister of a country be mum on such a serious incident?”

The prime minister should, indeed, have taken the opportunity to speak on behalf of India’s long, beleaguered effort to keep the peace among its many disparate ethnic groups.  But if the alternative is to whip up passions with dubious assertions, as Modi suggests, keeping mum wins hands down.

Finally, the article concludes by trying to cast India, despite the violence, in a good light.  India – despite its gross incompetence (incompetency that really should be at the core of democratic discourse, as the article posited in the beginning) – is really the political victim.  India may be incompetent; its leaders may harbor double standards, may even be hateful.  But India is the light forward.  It is the peace maker – the do gooder.  India must overcome forces that will take advantage of people’s differences.  People of different ethnicity in India must come together as one; they must work to live and work peacefully together.  Violence is not the way forward.

Of course, you will never hear any of these reasoned narratives that promote peace, harmony and stability when it comes to reports about China. And by rare chance if you do, you will only hear it smeared as some sort of tired and oppressive government propaganda.

Some random images culled from the web on the riot in the last few weeks.

  1. August 16th, 2012 at 14:48 | #1

    Spread to Mumbai:

  2. Zack
    August 16th, 2012 at 15:16 | #2

    guys, who are we kidding?
    The West gives India a free ride because they hope that India will fight China for them; that’s why India’s ‘China Killer’ MRBM wasn’t condemned by the Western Presses for being antagonistic and a threat to international peace.

    What’s even more disturbing is that there appear to be some in Delhi and some Overseas Indians who slavishly accept the role of cat’s paw for the anglocentric West.

  3. Black Pheonix
    August 16th, 2012 at 16:09 | #3

    French youths just rioted (I mean, Protested) days ago.

    And French government sent police AND military to crack down (in obsession with French stability, apparently).

  4. Black Pheonix
    August 16th, 2012 at 16:16 | #4

    This is UK’s reporting of the French riot, only showing the aftermaths of destruction, NOT a single frame of footage for the “rioters”/protesters??

    How easy it is for the Western media to brush off “freedom”? That easy!

  5. colin
    August 16th, 2012 at 18:30 | #5

    Maybe the west praises india so much because india follows its dictates hook line and sinker. Democracy and feedom above all else, while the masses starve and live in poverty. The west gleefully rubbin hands to the fact that india cant get its act together and will never challenge them as an equal. Incredible india indeed. Now if those rascally chinese will just follow the same line…

  6. no-name
    August 16th, 2012 at 20:23 | #6

    The riots in Assam mirror recent ones which took place in Amiens, France just several days ago. These riots are fairly serious as they were accompanied by widespread arson and assaults but these happenings receive scant attention from the western media especially euronews and right-wing media outfits like The-Diplomat, Mcclatchydc, Reuters and AP. However these same people are paying undue attention to the largely nonsensical Pussy Riot brouhaha in Russia. This goes to show that our western media people who are now seriously masquerading as global media reps are not much different from those who once worked for the very infamous Goebbels. In other words the western media are simply a bunch of toxic snakes.

  7. August 16th, 2012 at 22:19 | #7

    And it’s no wonder latest PEW Research on U.S. media credibility continues to decline. The following chart says it all:

  8. August 16th, 2012 at 22:56 | #8

    Allen’s OP gave a sense of the level of violence from the riot. I just did a Google image search on “Assam Riots” and this is what I got. You have to see these pictures to get a true sense of the level of mayhem this is.

  9. August 16th, 2012 at 23:16 | #9

    Alright guys, I think while your points about the western media are valid, you shouldn’t be too harsh on India. Granted it has a imperfect (to say the least) democracy, but it has its own unique challenges and a system of government that is suitable for its national conditions, and a Chinese-style authoritarian state probably cannot perform any better under the circumstances.

    Also, we should not equate India’s adoption of democracy with obedience to the West. Quite a few democratic countries have genuinely independent foreign policies, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, & Nicaragua – just to name a few. While we’re on the subject of independent foreign policy, quite frankly, India showed a lot more resolve in resisting the latest round of anti-Iranian oil sanctions than China did.

    The western media deserves its proper rebuke, but give India credit where credit is due.

  10. Zack
    August 16th, 2012 at 23:51 | #10

    @Mister Unknown
    to be honest, the Indians know the West is willing to give them a free hand, hence they knew they could milk their iranian relationship for all it was worth. Obama practically gave them a waiver despite them defying his edict-that gives you the amount of slack the US is willing to give India in the hopes that they’ll join the anti-China bandwagon.

    Now what are we to make of the Indian government and military loudly touting their latest and longest ranged ballistic missile as a ‘China killer’? it doesn’t get any clearer than that. Whether or not that ballistic missile can even hit anywhere within its target is irrelevant, the fact that the Indian ruling elite are willing to designate and loudly aim a weapon at a particular country speaks volumes about its intentions.

  11. August 17th, 2012 at 00:00 | #11

    @Mister Unknown

    I don’t think your comment was directed at the post, but I hope it’s clear that I am not criticizing or slighting India in any ways. I am just hoping that the “courtesy” and “respect” accorded to India will be accorded China also instead.

    I also hope from all my writings before, it’s clear that I do support this article’s facial approach to seeking harmony and unity over political divisiveness.

    As for your comment:

    While we’re on the subject of independent foreign policy, quite frankly, India showed a lot more resolve in resisting the latest round of anti-Iranian oil sanctions than China did.

    My sense is that India is not being pressured as much as China is at all…

  12. August 17th, 2012 at 00:06 | #12


    I’m certainly not suggesting that India is a friendly country, but I do think we have to accurately assess India’s moves. There is a difference between exploiting the west’s anti-chinese attitudes and actually committing to the bandwagon against China.

    As for its missile buildup, I would wait before assessing their end goal. They can already reach all of China (all the important places anyway), let’s see of they develop longer range missiles. If they do not, then their claims of countering China would have some credibility. If they do go ahead with longer ranged missiles, then then we can rest assured that they don’t just have China & Pakistan in mind.

  13. August 17th, 2012 at 00:17 | #13


    I certainly did not direct my comments to you, I just sensed that there is a lot of genuine hostility toward India based on the comments here.

    I find the state of relations between China and India quite unfortunate, given that it was the west that instigated and still instigates that hostility.

  14. August 17th, 2012 at 01:00 | #14

    Of course you are right, Mister Unknown. Allen, myself and others think India and China really have a lot in common and believe they are aligned on many fronts. For example, if we look at CO2 per citizen. The U.S. enjoys 4x and 10x vs the Chinese/Indians respectively. It thus is no wonder India and China voted the same way at Copenhagen, regardless of how the Western press likes to spin what happened there. They both want more votes within WB and IMF. Within BRICS, they’d prefer to bypass the USD in bilateral trades. It’s a really long list.

    Culturally they value so many things as the Chinese do. For example, family and education. Historically the two cultures have coexisted peacefully. I think they understand all that. They are proud of the fact that they passed Budhism to China.

    But on the other hand, Zack points to a real phenomenon within India: the Indian press is in fact hawkish towards China right now. I think that’s due to China’s support of Pakistan. China is obviously unhappy with India harboring the TGIE.

    China cannot be solely responsible for how the China-India relationship evolves. India has to play a constructive role too. Maitreya has written a really good article about how India has thus far being fairly irresponsible in terms seemingly not wanting to resolve the border dispute.

    Indian have also bought into the ‘democracy’ and ‘free press’ religion. I have many Indian friends who lament the fact that China is so far ahead but then in the same breath seek comfort by stating they have ‘democracy’ and ‘free press.’

    It’s really human nature to ingratiate with the more rich and powerful. Indians often like to assert their devotion to the ‘democracy’ and ‘free press’ religion, and this is really the ONLY area where they get some bones tossed at them within the Western press.

  15. August 17th, 2012 at 02:43 | #15

    nice fotos yinyang. india is given a free ride to do whatever they want because they are being played against CHina. notice there is almost no negative propaganda about viet nam, despite being communist.

  16. scl2
    August 17th, 2012 at 15:50 | #16

    The shooting of miners in South Africa the other day did not garner much Western media attention either. West media hypocrites are simply not interested in the fate of poor miners in SA, yet they will never miss the slightest sign of Chinese labor dispute. Imagine the mine was owned by a Chinese company!

  17. Zack
    August 17th, 2012 at 21:52 | #17

    @Mister Unknown
    no disagreements there, mate. To their credit, India’s leaders have at least been pragmatic vis-a-vis China, especially when Delhi saidas recently that they wouldn’t overtly be a part of Washington’s strategic encirclement of China. emphasis on ‘overt’. What complicates matters is of course India’s relationship with Russia which has its own agenda.

    You are absolutely correct that the West-in particular Britain- was the main instigator of the tensions between India and China, but then and again, the english have excelled at dividing and ruling.

  18. lws
    August 17th, 2012 at 22:01 | #18

    Overseas Chinese all rise to combat this western nonsense and smear campaign against China. I have been on a personal crusade to unmask the western media hypocrisy since the year 2000. Guess what? They put me on their black list and barred from any of their comment section in media like FT, Guardian, Economists, the Telegraph etc. So much for their freedom of speech. Join our United Chinese United World Forum on FB:

  19. August 19th, 2012 at 21:49 | #19

    What we don’t hear is that the Indian military, media, the rightwing nationalist politicians and the public in many Indian provinces are to blame for these ethnic unrest. They have stoked the flames of distrust with their brutal tactics and the fear they tried to spread about the different ethnic groups. India’s ethnic separatist movement is actually much much worse than China’s with far more people rioting and being killed by Indian military forces and militant ethnic groups (often many activists are made to “disappear” by the military like in Pinochet’s regime).

    But you rarely hear of all the human rights abuses in India regarding ethnic violence in the mainstream US media. It was only 9 years ago that an actual genocide occurred in Gujarat when Hindu nationalists targeted Muslim minorities for extermination.

    This paper shows the evidence of that real genocide and also interestingly shows that the allegations of genocide in Tibet are baseless. It’s a good comparison showing that the west will make up genocide narratives to suit its own biased mindset while ignoring real genocides from their allies.

    This rare NYT article exposes some of the state-sponsored violence in Kashmir as well.

    This just shows that allies of the US, no matter how bad their human rights record, can get away with literally murder and genocide with only the most minor, if almost non existent criticism from the media.

    Israel, Saudi Arabia and India are the three worst human rights abusers on the planet but since they are the allies of the US, legitimate criticisms are simply buried underneath diversion tactics directed towards our “enemies” and “competitors”.

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