The Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation For Documentary Photography & Film
2013 Photography Grant Laureate – Vivek Singh
Project: Ethnic Unrest, Western Assam—The Aftermath
Region/Impact: Ethnic Conflict, Displacement and Migration in India
In late July 2012, the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), administered by the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council of Lower Assam in India, witnessed ethnic violence between opposing factions of the Bodos, considered original inhabitants of the area, and the migrant Bengali Muslim populations. School and college buildings became defacto relief camps as large numbers were reduced to refugees. More than 400,000 people across both communities were displaced during the recent clashes.
The BTAD area, comprising the Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Chirang districts, wore the look of a deserted landscape. An eerie silence enveloped this beautiful yet bloodily contested area. Village upon village of both ethnicities lay burnt. Everyday household items were strewn about as people picked up whatever they could in the rush to flee. Fire was used by both sides as a tool of terror with great effect.
The official number of those killed continues to rise with the region witnessing more violence. At the time of submitting this proposal, the official figure had crossed 100. The unofficial figure is alarmingly high, nearly ten times the official estimate with scores of people still missing as of January 2013.
Ethnic conflict, displacement and migration in Lower Assam is not a new phenomenon. It has been used by both state and non-state actors as a tool towards political gain often resulting in the mass exodus of whole communities and effectively amounting to ethnic cleansing.
There are still numerous IDP camps in the area. Some rehabilitation has started, but it remains sparse as people are afraid to return to their original dwellings for fear of reprisal attacks. The struggle to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild their broken lives demands documentation and reporting for a wider audience.
As I have since 2006, during the course of the coming year I plan to continue documenting how protracted ethnic animosity and conflict has affected the local populace. I will pay special attention to how people cope with the many difficulties involving post-conflict situations. I will carry out rigorous photographic reportage on all of the affected districts under the BTAD administration. I have now made two trips, first looking at the immediate aftermath of the conflict in the August of 2012, and then again during January 2013. The Grant will help me produce a telling photographic essay on the challenges people face in this often under-reported part of the India’s north-eastern periphery.