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Explained: The significance of DNLA militants laying down arms in Assam

Dima Hasao was a hotbed of insurgency in 1994-95 and again in 2003-2009, but has been largely peaceful in the last decade. DNLA was the newest group to have taken up arms in Dima Hasao.

Written by Tora Agarwala , Edited by Explained Desk | Guwahati |
Updated: November 16, 2021 8:45:13 am
The rebels laid down arms in a programme in Khepre, 95 km from the district headquarters in Haflong. (Twitter: @himantabiswa)

On Monday, 46 cadres of the Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA), along with Commander-in-Chief Mushrang, laid down arms in Assam’s Dima Hasao district to join the mainstream. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the surrender had given an “impetus to the process of peace” in Assam.

What is the DNLA?

A relatively new insurgent group, the DNLA, operating in Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong districts, was formed in 2019. A release by the group at the time of formation said it was “committed to revamp the national struggle and fight for the liberation of a sovereign, independent Dimasa Nation”. It aimed to “develop a sense of brotherhood among the Dimasa and also to rebuild the trust and faith among the Dimasa society for regaining the Dimasa Kingdom”.

The group had run on a model of ‘extortion and taxation’ and was believed to have drawn its support and sustenance from the NSCN(IM) of Nagaland.

Active in the last two years, the DNLA came to limelight when they were suspected to be behind the attack that killed five truck drivers in Dima Hasao in August, after the truck owners allegedly failed to pay extortion money. The attack came at a time when the government had been making efforts to bring militant groups to the mainstream.

What led the group coming overground?

In September, barely a fortnight after the truck attack, the group’s top leaders came overground to hold talks with CM Sarma. The leaders included self-styled ‘chairman’ Edika Diphusa alias Kharmindao Dimasa, ‘deputy chairman’ Juddychan Haflongbar alias America Dimasa and ‘general secretary’, Prithamjit Jidongsa alias Galao Dimasa.

After talks, they signed a suspension of operations agreement. Following that, on Saturday, along with Mushrang, 46 cadres laid down arms in the presence of Hiren Nath, ADGP (Special Branch), Jayant Singh, SP, Dima Hasao, Debolal Garlosa, Chief Executive Member of North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC). They are currently in a camp in Maibang, 100 km from district headquarters Halflong.

The police said that there were about 300 more DNLA cadres, and they, too, would come overground soon.

SP Singh said that arms the group surrendered included an AK 47 and M16 rifles, among others.

Who are the Dimasas? What is the Dimasa kingdom?

The Dimasas (or Dimasa-Kacharis) are the earliest known rulers and settlers of Assam, and now live in Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong, Cachar, Hojai and Nagaon districts of central and southern Assam, as well as parts of Nagaland.

Prior to Ahom rule, the powerful Dimasa kings — believed to be the descendants of the rulers of the ancient Kamarupa kingdom — ruled large parts of Assam along the south bank of the Brahmaputra between the 13th and 16th centuries. Their earliest historically known capital was Dimapur (now in Nagaland), and later Maibang in North Cachar Hills.

What about militancy in Dima Hasao?

The hill districts of Assam — Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao (earlier North Cachar Hills) — have had a long history of insurgency by Karbi and Dimasa groups which peaked in the mid-1990s, and was rooted in a core demand of statehood. Both districts are now protected under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, and are run by the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council and the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, respectively.

While the demand for statehood began in the 1960, it took a violent turn when a demand for a full-fledged state, ‘Dimaraji’, gathered steam, and led to the formation of the militant Dimasa National Security Force (DNSF) in 1991. The group surrendered in 1995, but its commander-in-chief, Jewel Gorlosa, broke away and formed the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD).

After the DHD began talks with the government in 2003, Gorlosa broke away again and formed the Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel) (DHD-J), with an armed wing called Black Widow. Gorlosa was arrested in 2009, signed a ceasefire agreement in 2012, and thereafter joined mainstream politics.

Dima Hasao was a hotbed of insurgency in 1994-95 and again in 2003-2009, but has been largely peaceful in the last decade. DNLA was the newest group to have taken up arms in Dima Hasao.

Is the DNLA surrender significant?

SP Singh said that they were the last active militant group in the district. “As of now no more groups are active,” he said, adding that their surrender was a “step towards peace.” ADGP Nath added that this was especially significant because the hill districts have had a long history of militancy. “Considering they were the last active group, it is noteworthy they have joined the peace process,” he said.

Special DGP GP Singh said that the surrender comes at a time when most groups in Assam have joined the mainstream, including all Bodo and Karbi militant outfits. “This leaves out the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I),” he said, adding that the government was already in the process of reaching out to them. “We are hopeful they will come overground too and there will be peace in Assam,” he said.

In September CM Sarma said that Union Home minister Amit Shah had authorised him to hold preliminary talks with the ULFA-I. On Sunday, the group extended its unilateral ceasefire for three more months.

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