Red October memories of Northeast's days of terror and the joy of peace now

During the height of insurgency in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura (1990-2010), bomb blasts at marketplaces, crowded places, bus stops, railway stations and even cinema halls were common.

Published: 07th January 2023 08:18 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th January 2023 03:14 AM   |  A+A-

Assam Blast, Northeast unrest, Northeast violence

Firefighters extinguish burning motorbikes parked at the AT Road area after a bomb blast in Guwahati on 16 March 2007. (File Photo | AFP)

On January 6, Union home minister Amit Shah told a gathering in Nagaland that insurgency-related incidents in the Northeast were down by 74% in 2021 when compared to seven years ago. These days, the prevailing peace has allowed us to dream of our region catching up with the more prosperous parts of India. But it was not so two decades ago. 

Still etched in my memory is an October 2 -- from 2004. 

On that Gandhi Jayanthi day, not many people in the Northeast had cell phones. At around 10 am, I was woken up by the insistent rings on my feature phone. It was an unknown landline number.  With a quivering voice, the caller -- a known fellow -- broke the news: "Dimapur railway station is finished."  

I leapt out of my bed. In a matter of minutes, I was ready. The office was just 100 metres away, a car was waiting and soon I was headed to the site, 2 km away. There, two massive explosions had ripped through the railway station and the nearby Hong Kong Market in the commercial town of Nagaland. The market would always teem with shoppers from across Nagaland besides Assam and Manipur for the "foreign goods" it sold. 

The explosions were deadly. The entire shed of Platform No 1 was blown apart. I found human limbs strewn all over -- on the platform and the tracks. Some were hanging from electric poles and wires. The victims, including children, were waiting to catch a train when a bomb exploded with a deafening sound. I saw a survivor, soaked in gunpowder, from head to foot. He could barely speak. 

At the Hong Kong Market, portions of buildings had crumbled. People were seen crying inconsolably. 

The then Union home minister Shivraj Patil arrived the next day to take stock of the situation. It was officially declared that 32 people had lost their lives. But the witnesses and those who visited the two sites felt not less than 100 had been killed. 

According to police, over 100 kg of RDX was used. The bombings occurred after the Centre had signed separate ceasefire agreements with major insurgent groups NSCN-IM (1997) and NSCN-K (2001). The names of the group or individuals responsible are not known till today or it was not disclosed. The attacks were suspected to have been carried out to derail the peace process.

ALSO READ | Insurgency lull in Northeast no sign of an endgame

Cut to May 2008. I had shifted my base to Guwahati. On October 30 of the same year, similar serial blasts rocked Guwahati and parts of Assam, claiming nearly 90 lives.

The insurgent group National Democratic Front of Bodoland had carried out these attacks. The perpetrators of the crime were nabbed in due course. Some are now out on bail, granted for the sake of peace process.

October 30 2008 blast in Guwahati
From our archives

During the height of the insurgency in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura (1990-2010), bomb blasts at marketplaces, crowded places, bus stops, railway stations and even cinema halls were common. People were afraid of venturing out. 

Then, there was the problem of extortion. While traders were largely extorted in Assam and Manipur, the militants spared none in Nagaland. People were afraid of putting up a resistance fearing the gun. Those who did lost their lives. 

Large business establishments closed their shops and moved elsewhere outside the Northeast. The local economy was hit and more importantly, jobs were lost.

The turnaround vis-à-vis change in people's attitude towards militants and militancy was first observed in 2008-09. They now started speaking up against the militants and their activities. 

The Assam Public Works, an NGO, was the first to take ULFA military chief Paresh Baruah head-on. It openly criticised him for indulging in bloodbaths. The insurgent group killed many poor Hindi-speaking people over a period of time to settle scores with the central government. To the ULFA, Hindi represented India and the government, and it was wielding the gun for a "sovereign" Assam.

ALSO READ | Corporate Social Responsibility and Northeast

In Nagaland, it was the Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation or ACAUT that began mobilising public opinion against the illegal taxes collected by the state's myriad militant groups. "The undergrounds (read militants) are sucking our blood," I once heard a person addressing a public rally in Dimapur saying. Such a statement from a public platform was unthinkable when I served in the state between 2001 and 2008. 

The various peace agreements, the youth's increased access to education -- and quality education at that -- their exposure to the outside world and the lavish lifestyles of militant leaders, including those who joined the mainstream, changed the entire outlook and perspective of people towards militancy and militants. Some thought the insurgent leaders are running industries and that insurgency helps mint money.

No doubt, people became less afraid of the militants after the government had signed various ceasefire agreements and peace accords with the groups. Social media helped immensely in the mobilisation of public opinion. The Congress had started the peace process and the BJP continued with it. 

Today, the whole of the Northeast is peaceful. 

WEB SCRAWL | The King's Speech: Why the BJP may find it difficult to return to power in Tripura

The ULFA remains a headache but its indulgence in subversive activities has dropped drastically. Manipur has over 40 extremist groups; only some are outside the purview of the "suspension of operation" agreement. Nagaland is entirely peaceful although people are still required to periodically cough up their hard-earned money to pay service tax, trade tax, house tax and many such taxes to the militants. 

Even night bazaars and nightlife, which were considered risky till the first decade of the 21st century, are now common. 

It is all a far cry from the days of fear that I encountered in the early stages of my reporting career. May the peace reign!


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp