Bodoland has become synonymous to everyday violence. Such everyday violence takes multiple forms. It can be physically harming a human body or throwing insults, even passed on as everyday humour. The desire for a separate homeland or an autonomous area of Bodoland has provoked conflicts of a variety. This desire for separate homeland has manufactured ‘hardman’ and ‘gunman’, like in the case of Northern Ireland. The recent killing of Lafiqul Islam Ahmad, President of All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union (ABMSU), is not an aberration.
Masks, Hardman and Gunman
Allan Feldman in his book,Formations of Violence, speaks about hardman and gunman in the context of violence in Northern Ireland. For Feldman, hardman are those individual whose only aim is to kill someone who is alive or a threat to you. The very ethics of the hardman states that the practice of violence is centred on them. People who take to violence in Bodolandassume that they have to wipe out every non-Bodo in order to achieve a normal livelihood, political privileges, authentic identity, and equality. In retaliation to such violence, even the non-Bodos ended up participating in acts of violence. In one of my interviews with victims of 2015 violence, the respondents describe to me of the chaos that followed. The respondent admitted the fact that there was no clarity of who was attacking whom.Bullets and arrows were exchanged. Angry mobs burnt each others houses.Survivors, here mainly Santhals, have described the appearances of those who have attacked them. A Fact Finding team constituted by the Delhi Solidarity Group, reported that the attackers were wearing a black mask and killing at will (Fact Finding Report: 10-11 January 2015).
Masks can be seen as the representation of a group or the death itself, as the one who wears a mask is the attacker. Masks can again be seen as the symbol of terror and violence, as these people with masks make themselves visible only to terrorise or create violence. It can again be seen as the representation of autonomous, collective violence (Feldman, 1991), a representation of victory over the blood. It can be seen as the reminder of the agony that they are living with. The masks bring out a collective moral construction of the body, which discriminates between the victim and the perpetrator (Ibid). A person will know that he is going to be victimised if he saw someone with the mask. It is a construction of the body so that the perpetrator can identify the object of violence.
The black mask used by the Bodo militants brings out the symbols of Bodoland violence. Hardman in Northern Ireland used masks to represent their autonomy and collective violence which made them singular and symbolic. Bodo militants were also seen with their face covered in masks while attacking the innocent villagers, as reported by the Fact finding committee, among others.This whole discourse of mask can be represented as the desire of the militants to create a singularity for them so that all of them and their preceding violent acts can be seen as unique.
The perspectives of Bodo militants can further be defined as the ‘gunman’. For Feldman, the change from hardman to gunman is represented by the utilisation of the weapon. Gunman signifies his self-conversion into a tool and beholding to the mask, signifies the singularity of their actions. Bodo militants are described and seen with masks and weapons, an extension from hardman to gunman. It signifies that they have turned into a tool, a form of terror, and they work under the instruction, as they represent themselves of being the agent of violence. The re-codification of their faces with masks anticipates the emerging construction of trans-individual-political-gency by applying the force of violent acts (Ibid).
The body is supposedly the main ingredient of politics. It is the medium, and it becomes the origin of the problem, even solution. The body becomes the medium for creating violence, either it burst out from the body or enters into it. It becomes the one who suffers or wins, one who is doing it or being done (Ibid). Bodo militants could have just destroyed their houses or other possible material possession, but it is the body which gives a result to every action. In a political regime, a demand can never be highlighted without the agents of the body, either in the form of terror or subjugation. The politics of power or the politics of autonomy which the Bodo militants are aspiring for is concluding into a bloodied playground buried with innocent lives. ‘The people’ have become the passageway of terror and disintegration. ‘The body’ thus become the only source through which power is expressed and terror is inscribed.
The recent killing of the minority student leader has again brought Bodoland into limelight. There has been claims and counterclaims on his killing from various fractions in Bodoland. One side of such claim is that he was bringing into light the illegal cow syndicate that smuggles cattle out of Bodoland, which led to his assassination. However, the presence of such cow syndicate is questionable on many grounds. The counterclaim suggests that it is a cold blooded political murder of a minority leader who stood for minority rights in Bodoland. Whatever maybe the reason; the killers arrived wearing helmets, a new kind of mask. I leave it to you to decide whether those killers are hardman or gunman? In any case, it appears that in Bodoland there is no dearth of either.
The author is an independent researcher and is interested in issues of everyday violence, identity and memory.