Assam (also spelled Asom and Axom) covers the fertile Brahmaputra valley, making it the most accessible of India’s Northeast States. The typical Assamese landscape offers golden-green vistas over endless rice fields that are patched with palm and bamboo groves, and framed in the distance by the hazy blue Himalayas rising up out of Arunachal Pradesh. In between lie manicured tea estates.
One thing I try very hard to do for my dear readers is to give you a real sense of what the places I visit are like. That means not just pointing the camera at the highlights, but at the minutiae of daily life. I tried to do that during our days driving through the state of Assam. These random pictures (and two video clips) posted below in chronological order will, I hope, form a sort of collage that provides a sense of Assam for you.
Inside India, there are several wars going on. The country is now into its fifth decade of rebel activity in the northeast state of Assam (population 28 million). Rebel violence in Assam left 439 people dead in 2007 (the last year for which I have statistics); that’s up from 242 in 2006 and 254 in 2005. Most of the dead (65 percent) in 2007 were civilians, with the rest being security forces. The violence goes back to the fact that Assam was never part of India until India was created by the British in 1947. Many of the dozens of ethnic groups in Assam did not want to be part of India. Twenty years ago, this resentment became more violent. Worse, the rebel groups sustain themselves through various extortion activities and outright theft. Corruption has always been a problem in Assam, and the presence of several thousand armed rebels makes it worse. While only 129 rebels were killed in 2007 (Again, the latest year for which I have statistics), 1,627 were captured or surrendered. There were 500 violent incidents involving the rebels, but many more cases where the rebels intimidated or terrorized people.
From 2002 to 2007, the Indian government eliminated rebel sanctuaries in neighboring Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh. But, the rebels have adapted and continue to operate. There are four main rebel groups, each composed of different factions. Attempts to negotiate a comprehensive peace deal have failed, largely because of factions and the continuing resentment by over a dozen (of more than 50 ethnic groups in Assam) that still do not want to be a part of India. Attempts to placate these rebellious populations have failed, largely because of rebel attacks against Indian officials (which is popular among the tribal population) and corruption among those same officials. Even expanding the local police force has been difficult because of a lack of qualified (literate) recruits and threats (against police and their families) by the rebels.
For more on the insurgencies in the Northeast, I have put additional information here.
A tea plantation. Assam has many of these:
The Brahmaputra River… A bridge is being built, but for now the only way to cross is still by a ferry: