Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation



Violence Over Land in Assam in India

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Southern Asia
Time 1970 ‐ ongoing
Countries India
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary Bangladeshi illegal immigration into Assam as a result of changed climatic patterns and deteriorating economic and social conditions in Bangladesh has led to...
Violence Over Land in Assam in India
Bangladeshi illegal immigration into Assam as a result of changed climatic patterns and deteriorating economic and social conditions in Bangladesh has led to ethnic violence with indigenous Assam communities since the 1970s. Today, clashes have also evolved over the distribution of environmental resources between migrants and indigenous communities, highlighting the impact of climate change on population density and resource distribution.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to climate change because of its low lying geography, dense population and subsistence agriculture. The state of Assam in north-eastern India has also felt the effects of climate change when it experienced widespread flooding in 2012.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Extreme weather events in Bangladesh have caused the destruction of livelihoods, and have pushed more migrants into Assam. Environmental refugees fleeing Bangladesh are thus worsening the ethnic violence in Assam, as migrants are entering an area that is already vulnerable to social, economic and environmental instability.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

The situation created anti-foreigner agitation that has polarised indigenous groups against the Bangladeshi migrants, as well as an insurgency against the central government for its inaction to control immigration. Violence in Assam has caused thousands of fatalities and continues unabated today.¬

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversExtreme weather event is consistent with predictions regarding more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events.In-migration leads to demographic change.Demographic changes increase pressures on natural resources.Extreme weather event leads to scarcity of essential natural resources.Extreme weather event destroys/threatens livelihoods.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources reduces available resources and ecosystem services.Loss of livelihoods leads to migration.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Problems related to migration/displacements lead to growing discontent with the state.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.An increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsA specific extreme weather event such as a flood or a storm.Extreme Weather EventVoluntary or involuntary movement of people from one area to another.Migration patternsChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeGrowing scarcity of essential natural resources.Natural Resource ScarcityReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood Insecurity(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal GroupsChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
  • Unresponsive Government
Conflict History

The violence between immigrants and indigenous groups in Assam is a historical trend, which can be observed since 1970s and 1980s when large groups of Muslim-Bangladeshis migrated. The high concentration of migrants has led to competition for land between indigenous groups. Environmental refugees fleeing extreme weather events in Bangladesh are arguably an exacerbating factor of ethnic violence in Assam (Ziegler, 2013). Despite government attempts to address the grievances of ethnic groups in Assam, violence has caused thousands of fatalities and continues today unabated.

History of migrants in Assam
Since colonial rule, seasonal Bangladeshi migrants have found employment in the tea-gardens of Assam (Manuvie, 2010). Ethnic tensions already existed in the region amongst indigenous minority groups, such as the Bodos, Rabhas and Tiwas (Vivekanada & Smith, 2007). Most of these groups have traditionally resisted the centralised government and competed for autonomy; resenting the government for marginalising the rights of their minorities.

Government inaction leads to violent protest
The large and highly concentrated settlement of Muslim-Bangladeshi migrants in Assam, combined with government inaction to control illegal immigration, led to anti-foreigner agitation that polarised the indigenous groups against the Bangladeshi migrants. This culminated in the Nellie massacre of 1983, which killed over 3,000 people (Singh, 2010). Following this, the Bodos independence guerrillas waged an insurgency against the central government for years during the 1990s and 2000s as a result of government inaction to control immigration and to take measures to preserve Bodo culture (Singh, 2010).

Climate change as an exacerbating factor
Climate change has also arguably exacerbated these ethnic tensions. Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to climate change because of its low lying geography, dense population and subsistence agriculture. Natural disasters and the destruction of livelihoods in Bangladesh caused by salt water intrusion into agricultural fields have pushed more migrants north into Assam (Ziegler, 2013; Vivekanada & Smith, 2007). Unfortunately, Assam is also vulnerable to climate change. In 2012, eighteen of the twenty-seven districts of Assam were flooded; displacing 1.4 million people (Ziegler, 2013). Estimations of Bangladeshi migrants in Assam vary between four and ten million (Singh, 2010). There is, however, a lack of publicised data on these figures, which means it is impossible to know the extent to which the migrants have affected social dynamics in given areas (Singh, 2010). It can be assumed that uncontrolled migration into an area that is already vulnerable to social, economic and environmental instability will exacerbate existing fragility (Ziegler, 2013). Episodes of violence against Bangladeshi migrants continue today and are often diffused by the deployment of federal forces. The Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA) suggested that the region of Assam will remain vulnerable to ethnic clashes, as long as the government does not implement a coherent policy to deal with the tension (Das, 2012).

Resolution Efforts

In addition to the deployment of government troops to diffuse violent skirmishes, there have been various central government attempts to negotiate with indigenous groups to dissolve ongoing tensions.

Establishment of tribal councils had mixed results
The central government has established nine tribal councils in Assam to concede to grievances concerning a loss of autonomy and cultural identity in the wake of immigration. For example, the Bodo Territorial Council was founded in 2003, which granted the Bodos limited autonomy over 3,000 villages. However, it is argued that conceding to these demands has only encouraged their posturing for additional autonomy, which has fuelled mounting anti-immigration sentiment (Singh, 2010). This can be seen in the case of the Bodoland Territorial Council, which has been involved in violent clashes with migrants over land and land rights and has since demanded a separate state for Bodos in Assam (Singh, 2010).

Conflict resolution attempts fail to adress illegal immigration
Investment in development has also been a solution approached by the central government but has been slow to evolve. In 2005, the independence group (the United Liberation Front of Assam) created an 11-member People’s Consultative Group to prepare for official peace talks with the government (Singh, 2010). However, peace talks fell through, and the civil society group was abandoned. There has been no comprehensive approach to resolve the conflict, which has addressed the issue of illegal immigration and included all interest groups affected by the outcome of negotiations. Without civil society engagement, a large constituency of community stakeholders, including Muslim communities and Bangladeshi migrants, are excluded from the conflict resolution process.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
3 000
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Mass Displacement More than 100.000 or more than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement Best estimate that more than 100.000 or more than 10% of country population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries India
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Resolve of displacement problems Displacement continues to cause discontent and/or other problems.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Bangladeshi immigrants
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Indigenous minorities
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Assam government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Bodo militants
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
United Liberation Front of Assam
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Public good: No one can be excluded from use and the good is not depleted.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse