India – Northeast (1979 – first combat deaths)

Tasneem Jamal Asia

Updated: June 2015
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources

Economic Factors

Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The Government of India and the governments of the northeast states (especially Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya) are in conflict with rebel groups that want greater autonomy or independence. Some rebel groups operate from bases in neighbouring countries: Assam factions operate from Bhutan, Manipur and Nagaland factions from Burma, and Tripura rebels from Bangladesh.

What (started the conflict): Since independence in 1947, Indian governments have tried to use discriminatory policies to assimilate historically autonomous groups into mainstream Indian society. In addition, an influx of immigrants into the region, especially Bengalis, made many indigenous national groups afraid that they would lose their cultural identities. Northeast India is the most ethnically diverse area in the country with 213 of 635 tribal groups. Rebel groups sought greater autonomy in their respective regions to minimize central government interference in their affairs. Although in recent years some groups have signed agreements with the government aimed at peaceful compromise, infighting between factions has prolonged the insurgency. From the early 1990s to 2011, 800,000 people fled Western Assam due to inter-ethnic conflict. As a result the region has experienced economic stagnation and its people have felt marginalized.

When (has fighting occurred): Regional tensions began when India became independent in 1947 and they were fueled by an influx of migrants following the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. Rebel groups have responded to invasive policies from the central government that were viewed to threaten cultural identities.

Where (is the conflict taking place): Conflict occurs mainly in six of the seven “sister states” of northeast India: Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya.



2015 Conflict deaths dropped from 465 the previous year to 273. The level of violence declined in Assam and Meghalaya, but increased in Nagaland and particularly in Manipur. In June Manipur was the site of a National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) guerilla raid that killed at least 18 Indian soldiers (The Economic Times). Indian troops responded by attacking an NSCN-K hideout in Myanmar. The Government of India and the National and the Socialist Council of Nagaland Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the NSCN-K’s rival, reached a peace agreement in August. The NSCN-K was outlawed by the Indian government in September.

2014 Insurgency-related deaths increased from 252 in 2013 to 465 this year. Attacks by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland in Assam resulted in high casualties. Clashes related to a border dispute between Assam and Nagaland left at least 15 people dead and 10,000 displaced. In a victory for government forces, 796 militants surrendered In Meghalaya—a staggering increase from nine in 2013. Approximately 300 Brus left relief camps in Tripura and returned to Mizoram as part of the sixth phase of the repatriation process of Bru refugees.In Manipur, the United Naga Council (UNC) entered into talks with government representatives in February. In Nagaland, the Lenten Agreement was signed on March 28 in a move toward reconciliation among three Naga militant groups. A new militant group, Achik Matgrik Elite Force (AMEF), was created in Maghalaya after it split from A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK). In his national budget, newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged $8.6 billion for infrastructure development in the region. 

2013 Conflict fatalities decreased from 316 in 2012 to 252 in 2013. Prime Minister Singh and Union Home Minister Sushikumar Shinde both cited progress in the Northeast, noting that more insurgent groups had signed the Suspension of Operations agreement or the Memorandum of Understanding. The government expressed concern over an increase to seven in the number of Naxalite-related incidents in the region. Although violence levels decreased, internal migration, an influx of refugees, and infighting among factions were impediments to further reductions. A December report noted that six new militant groups had emerged in Assam in the last two years. Ethnic conflagration was still prevalent; clashes between Rabhas and others resulted in 20 deaths. In October, the central government announced the creation of a new state, Telangana, which would officially separate from Andhra Pradesh in June 2014. Since several ethnic groups in the Northeast seek a separate state, the announcement increased tensions with Bodos, Karbis and Dimasas in Assam; tribal groups in Tripura; and Garos in Meghalaya.

2012 Three hundred and sixteen people died in the conflict, nearly half in July and August. Large-scale strikes were called to protest the government’s inability to contain violence. The government responded by banning strikes. More than 700 rebels surrendered and more than 500 were arrested, including high-level members of the United People’s Democratic Front, effectively ending the activities of this group. Dima Halam Daoga (the Black Widow group) and Dilip Nunsia signed a peace accord with the Central and State Governments. This development came eight years after a ceasefire agreement. Attacks on Assam villages resulted in the displacement of more than 187,000 people.

2011 The overall security situation improved as fatalities and incidents of violence continued to fall and peace talks between militant groups and the government yielded positive results, including the surrendering of arms. Most violence was focused in Assam and Manipur, but abductions and extortion remained a problem throughout the region.

2010 The death toll fell to 322. Assam and Nagaland saw the greatest improvements to security. A growing number of rebel groups, most notably the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), entered into talks with the government. A number of ULFA commanders surrendered; their leader was released from prison to engage in peace talks. Some analysts began to express hope for an end of the insurgency in Assam.

2009 The number of fatalities fell significantly from 2008, from roughly 1,130 to 843. Fatalities increased in the state of Assam, but significant gains were reported in counterinsurgency activities; at least 732 members of various terrorist groups surrendered.

2008 In Assam, several ULFA field commanders opted for a ceasefire and peace negotiations with the state. While this raised hopes for a reduction of violence, violence increased toward the end of the year, partly because of a conflict between Bodo tribesmen and Muslims. Manipur and Nagaland were plagued with violence and were the setting for more than 95 per cent of the deaths that occurred in the seven Northeastern states. The total of more than 1,130 conflict deaths represented a new annual high for the region, almost double that for 2006.

2007 A series of attacks by the ULFA against Hindi-speaking migrant labourers killed more than 300. The government launched an “all-out offensive” against the ULFA, deploying some 13,000 troops. Elections in Manipur were carried out amid high levels of violence as Naga rebels attempted to block participation by mainstream political parties. A ceasefire between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isaac/Muivah (NSCN-I/M) and the government was extended indefinitely.

2006 Ceasefires between the government and some rebel groups held. Peace negotiations met with little success. Clashes between other rebel groups and security forces continued, and extortion by rebels increased. Efforts were made to secure India’s borders with Burma and Bangladesh. More than 600 people were killed.

2005 Negotiations between the federal and state governments and a number of rebel groups continued, with mixed results. There were clashes between government troops and rebels, between rebel groups and between tribes; violent police oppression and an attack by Burmese troops on rebel bases inside Burma. At least 700 people were killed.

2004 Conflict between communities, terrorist attacks and clashes between government security forces and rebel groups resulted in more than 800 deaths. The Bhutanese and Burmese militaries continued to assault rebel bases in their territories, while the Indian and Bangladeshi armies launched their first joint military operations against rebels. In a departure from past policy, the Indian government announced that it was willing to begin peace talks with any rebel group that gave up violence, even if they had not begun to disarm.

2003 Fighting–including communal violence and “ethnic cleansing”–caused approximately 1,000 deaths. Civilian deaths represented almost half the fatalities. The Bhutanese army attacked Assamese insurgents based in Bhutan, killing approximately 100 and dislodging them from their bases. Peace negotiations continued between the government and several insurgent groups, particularly those based in Nagaland.

2002 Fighting claimed close to 1,000 lives, despite the initiation of peace negotiations between some rebel groups and the Indian government.

2001 A major joint offensive by the militaries of India and Burma to dislodge separatist rebels operating along India’s northeastern border failed to prevent rebel attacks on civilians and security forces. The government’s decision to extend a ceasefire with rebels in Nagaland to other states in the Northeast was reversed in July. Approximately 1,400 people were killed.

2000 Violence escalated, particularly in the last two months of the year, but there were conflicting claims about who carried out the killings. The United Liberation Front of Assam denied targeting civilians and accused the government of masterminding the upsurge in violence. Attacks involving tribal Bodo groups occurred in western Assam. An estimated 900 rebels surrendered to government forces. More than 1,700 people died.

1999 Fighting between rebel groups and government security forces and clashes among rival insurgent groups that often targeted civilians continued. More than 1,200 civilians, rebels and government forces were killed.

1998 Following a government offensive against the largest insurgent group early in the year, the conflict reverted to its deadly combination of government-rebel skirmishes, abuses by security forces and attacks by rebels on government officials and on rival insurgent forces and their communities.

1997 Insurgent attacks on government forces and public transportation, skirmishes between government and rebel forces, factional feuds among rival insurgent groups and abuses by government forces all contributed to an escalation of regional violence, despite ceasefires by some rebel groups.

1996 Major ethnic clashes in May, border tensions with Nagaland, gun fights between rebels and the police and army, attacks on civilians and Bodo rebel bombings, including on a main railway in December, killed at least 1,200, intensifying the conflict.

Type of Conflict

State formation

Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of India: President Pranab Mukherjee was elected to office in July 2012 and is the first Bengali to become President. Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister until May 2014, when he was replaced by Narendra Modi. According to The Military Balance, Indian armed forces comprise:

  • Army: 1,150,900
  • Air Force: 127,200
  • Navy: 58,350
  • Coast Guard: 9,550
  • Paramilitary: 1,403,700

2. Northeast state governments: Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. State police and Special Forces play some part in counterinsurgency, but national forces chiefly engage with rebel groups.


Various rebel groups: Dozens of armed groups operate in Northeastern India, many ethnically based. While many groups seek outright independence, others are fighting for increased autonomy. Many groups cooperate on occasion, but they are also often in conflict with each other; groups split and merge frequently. Currently, three states–Assam, Manipur and Nagaland–host most of the conflict; since 2009 violence in Maghalaya has increased. The following groups are active in these regions:

3. Assam Rebel Groups: The following groups have been active in recent years, or are currently engaged in peace talks; other smaller groups have been active from time to time:

a. United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), established in 1979, is an armed separatist group that seeks a “sovereign socialist Assam.” ULFA is the largest and most active rebel group.

b. Black Widow (BW) is fighting to preserve the identity of the Dimasa tribe and seeks a separate state for this group. BW is a breakaway faction of Dima Halam Daoga, which split in 2004.

c. Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) is a breakaway faction of the United People’s Democratic Solidarity, which split in 2004. This group claims to fight for the objectives of the Karbi tribe and has close links with ULFA.

d. National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFP) is seeking the creation of a state for the Bodo people.

e. Dima Halam Daoga (DHD) seeks a separate state for the Dirmasa. DHD was formed when the Dimasa National Security Front (DNSF) surrendered in 1995.

f. United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) was formed in 1999 and signed a ceasefire with the government in 2002. A  faction split away in 2004 to form the KLNLF (see above). In October 2012, Munglang, Commander-in-Chief of the United People’s Democratic Front, formed in 2011, was arrested with six other cadre members, effectively ending the group`s activities.

g. The Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) is a breakaway group from the A’chik National Unit Force, which forged new links with the ULFA in 2012. The ULFA wants to maintain an open corridor through Meghalaya for movement to hideouts in Bangladesh.

h. A’chik Songna An’ Pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK) was formerly known as Garo National Liberation Army-Faction (GNLA-F). It splintered from the GNLA in 2013.

i. Achik Matgrik Elite Force (AMEF) is a militant group that split from ASAK in 2014.

4. Manipur Rebel Groups: In Manipur, groups reported to be active include:

a. The People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), formed in 1977, claims to be the “most genuine revolutionary group” in Manipur and seeks to expel “outsiders” from the state.

b. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), formed in 1978, aims to establish a revolutionary front covering the entire Northeast, uniting all ethnic groups.

c. United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the oldest Meitei insurgent group in the state, seeks to establish an independent, socialist Manipur.

*PREPAK, PLA and UNLF together operate as the Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF).

d. The Military Council faction of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP-MC), formed in 1980, is concerned with the preservation of Meitei culture and demands secession of Manipur from India.

e. The People’s United Liberation Front (PULF), seeks to safeguard the rights of the Muslim minority in Manipur and, in collaboration with other Islamist groups, to secure an Islamic state in India’s northeast.

f. The Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) was formed in 1999 with the goal of establishing a separate Kuki state.

5. Nagaland Rebel Groups

a. National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), formed in 1980, seeks to establish a Greater Nagaland based on the ideals of Mao Zedong. This group is active in Nagaland and the hills of Manipur. In recent years, most of the fighting in Nagaland has been between two factions of the NSCN: the Isak-Muivah (IM) and the Khapalng (K).

b. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami became a player in 2009. There is  a “strong possibility of Islamic extremists establishing sleeper cells in Nagaland by taking advantage of their contacts inside the State,” according to Nagaland’s Chief Minister.

6. Meghalaya Rebel Groups

a. The Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), the most active group in Maghalaya, is a product of a 1992 split in the Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC), the first militant tribal group in Maghalaya. The HNLC seeks to transform Maghalaya into an exclusively Khasi region, free of domination by the Garo tribe.

b. Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) seeks to carve out an Achik Homeland in the Garo hills. The group signed a ceasefire with the government in 2004 and is still engaged in talks.

7. Tripura Rebel Groups: The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) are the principal insurgent groups.


Neighbouring states: Many insurgent groups operate from countries that border the affected northeast states. For example, several Assamese groups operate out of Bhutan; groups from Manipur and Nagaland are based in Burma and groups from Tripura are reportedly situated in Bangladesh.

Status of Fighting

2015 Violent incidents involving the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) declined significantly. Indian security forces arrested many NDFB militants in January (International Crisis Group). Major clashes occurred between Indian security forces and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), which unilaterally ended a ceasefire in March. In late May and early June MSCN-K killed 30 Indian soldiers. According to The Economic Times, a June 4 assault in Manipur killed at least 18 soldiers (The Economic Times). The Asia Times claimed that the raid was one of the deadliest attacks on military personnel in the history of the Northeast insurgency (Asia Times, “A new approach needed to end tribal insurgency in North-eastern India,” June 22, 2015). Indian forces then attacked an NSCN-K camp in Myanmar, killing as many as 100 (The Times of India).

2014 Assam was the state hardest hit by violent conflict this year, followed by Meghalaya. Manipur and Nagaland experienced a steady decline in insurgency-related violence. In early May, at least 41 people were killed in Assam in an attack attributed to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Also in Assam, at least 72 people were killed in attacks from December 23-24 for which NDFB was also held responsible. Immediately following the December attacks, the army launched a military operation against the Songbijit faction of the NDFB. At least five Bodos were killed. Clashes related to a border conflict between Assam and Nagaland left at least 15 people dead and 10, 000 displaced in Assam. In subsequent protests against the failure of the police to prevent the violence, five people were killed by police forces. In Manipur, 536 militants were arrested and another 93 surrendered. On July 11, counterinsurgency operation Hill Storm was launched in Meghalaya. In Meghalaya 796 militants surrendered, while only nine did so in 2013. In Mizoram, more than 2,423 displaced Brus fled to Tripura in January, following reports of violence perpetrated by Mizo youth.

2013 The central government used paramilitary forces to help Northeastern states contain the insurgency. Levels of violence decreased somewhat, but internal migration, an influx of refugees, and infighting among factions impeded further reductions. A report released in December by the Institute of Peace and Conflict studies noted that six new militant groups had emerged in Assam in the past two years. Ethnic clashes between Rabhas and non-Rabhas in Western Assam over elections for the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council killed 20 people. In late December tensions between Karbis and Rengma Nagas in Southern Assam resulted in the deaths of nine Rengma Nagas and 10 Karbis in retaliation. The government expressed concern about the spread of the Maoist insurgency into the region following seven Naxalite-related incidents in 2013. Others suggested that Maoist influence in the region was of little consequence since many factions will not concede their power to ‘outsiders.’ Discrimination against people from the Northeast, including common hate crimes, continued to fuel feelings of isolation from the rest of the country.

2012 Large-scale violence involving Bodos and Muslims occurred. At least 150 people were killed in clashes in July and August. This violence was partly sparked by the killing of four Bodos by an unidentified man, provoking retaliation. Later in August a two-month general strike was called in districts of Assam to protest the government’s inability to end the violence. The state banned strikes the next day. Security conditions also deteriorated in Nagaland, Manipur, and Meghalaya; Manipur saw an increase in fatalities from 65 in 2011 to 110. In 2012, eight years after a ceasefire agreement, the Dima Halam Daoga signed a peace agreement with the Central and State Governments. Fatalities among security forces declined 50 per cent from 2011.The state has been engaged in extensive operations against the Garo National Liberation Army since its formation. At least 58 persons were abducted in 2012 (46 in 2011).

2011 Reports of violence and the number of fatalities fell significantly. Most violence was limited to Manipur and Assam. Both states saw a dramatic improvement in security, but the number of abductions and extortion cases increased. Some rebel groups in Assam, including the UPDS, continued to surrender their arms; peace talks between the ULFA and the government yielded positive results. Manipur saw a decline in militant fatalities, but civilian and security force fatalities remained steady. Although there was little violence in Nagaland, there were 12 reported cases of extortion and abduction.

2010 There was less violence and fewer than half the fatalities of the previous year. Improvements were most pronounced in Assam and Manipur, which had been the most violent regions in recent years. In Assam, the strength of the main rebel group (ULFA) decreased substantially; many rebels surrendered in an effort to further talks with the government. Administration in Manipur remained weak. Incidents of violence in Maghalaya were similar to those of the previous year, when violence increased dramatically. A few deaths occurred in Nagaland and Tripura.

2009 Many members of terrorist groups were arrested or surrendered. The number of fatalities decreased  from 1,054 in 2008 to 843. Assam saw a rise in fatalities from 373 to 392, with an increase in militant deaths and a decline in civilian. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, this indicated that the state was gaining ground. Also noteworthy was the “near decapitation” of one of the most dangerous groups in this conflict, the UFLA. September and October saw the mass surrender of hundreds of members of Black Widow. By the end of the year, 494 militants had been arrested while 732 had surrendered. Manipur saw a reduction in violent incidents, but, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the state government lacked the political will to confront the insurgents on a sustained basis with a coherent strategy. In Nagaland, the acceleration of violence since 2001 seemed to have been dramatically reversed; the state saw only 17 fatalities. There was concern, however, about the introduction of a new Bangladesh-based group, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. Only minor incidents were reported in Mizoram and the other states. However, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, counterinsurgency gains were tentative and remained reversible, with little evidence of civil governance in the region.

2008 Violence rose markedly in the last four months of the year. In addition to the secessionist insurgency in Assam, a clash between Bodo tribesmen and Muslims broke out in October in which dozens were killed. In Nagaland, the number of deaths increased significantly, due primarily to internecine fighting between two factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN). Fighting in Nagaland reportedly affected neighbouring areas of Manipur.

2007 Peace talks between Delhi and ULFA remained stalled as numerous surges of violence plagued Assam. ULFA rebels were suspected of killing more than 300 Hindi-speaking migrants, prompting the government to launch an all-out offensive. Talks between the NSCN-IM and the government began in December. Tense state elections in Manipur resulted in violent clashes as Naga rebels attempted to prevent the participation of mainstream political parties.

2006 Violent clashes continued to erupt between government security forces and rebels in Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram. Manipur and Assam experienced the most violence. The government offensive against insurgencies in Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh was considered fairly successful. Rebel activities included extortion of government offices, business and civilians; abductions; attacking security forces and government targets; and bombing oil refineries and pipelines. Ceasefires were maintained between the government and the NSCN-IM (Nagaland), NSCN-K (Nagaland), UPDS (Assam), NDFB (Assam) and the ANVC (Meghalaya). Peace talks between the government and the ULFA were attempted, but met with little success.

2005 Clashes between government forces and rebels were reported throughout the Northeast, including Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Mizoram. Fighting took place on both sides of the India-Burma border as the Indian government launched attacks on Burmese rebels camped in India’s Mizoram state and the Burmese army attacked rebel bases of the NSCN-Khaplang in Burma. Inter-tribal and inter-rebel clashes were reported in Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and in particular Assam, where year end saw deadly clashes between Dimasa and Karbi rebels. Local police forces fired on mass street demonstrations in several states, killing dozens. Ceasefires began or continued between government forces and the NDFB, BNLF and NSCN-IM.

2004 Ethnic clashes, sporadic fighting between Indian security forces and rebel groups as well as rebel terrorist attacks on civilian targets continued, resulting in more than 800 deaths. The most serious incidents were rebel attacks on civilians, including the bombing of an Independence Day parade that killed 18 civilians and wounded dozens more. Bhutanese and Burmese attacks on rebel bases resulted in the destruction of several bases. New joint Indian-Bangladeshi operations against rebel groups had some success; a joint India-Burma operation late in the year destroyed several rebel bases.

2003 Ethnic violence and clashes between insurgents and Indian security forces continued to plague Northeastern states, with some groups also targeting civilians. In Assam, militants, including members of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), attacked Biharis and other Hindi-speakers late in the year, killing approximately 50 people and forcing tens of thousands to flee the state. In December, the Bhutanese army attacked Assamese insurgent bases in Bhutan, driving insurgents away and killing approximately 100. During state assembly elections in Tripura in March, militant groups employed violent tactics to intimidate and coerce voters and political leaders, resulting in approximately 50 deaths.

2002 Rebel groups across Northeastern India continued to fight government forces and target civilians. In Assam, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland was accused of “ethnic cleansing,” when it summarily executed residents of a village in Kokrajhar district. Fighting intensified in Tripura where the National Liberation Front of Tripura carried out increasingly brutal attacks against the paramilitary.

2001 In May, the Indian and Burmese armies initiated a major joint military offensive against rebel bases in India’s Northeast, bordering Burma. This did not prevent attacks on civilians and security forces.

2000 Violence escalated, particularly in the last two months, but there were conflicting claims about who was responsible. The ULFA, accused of many attacks on civilians, denied targeting civilians and in turn accused the government of using former ULFA rebels and masterminding the upsurge in violence. Under pressure from New Delhi, the Royal Bhutan Army intensified operations against Assamese rebels to drive out the separatists on the Bhutanese side of the border. There also were attacks involving tribal Bodo groups in western Assam. An estimated 900 rebels surrendered to government forces.

1999 The ULFA battled police and former ULFA members working with government forces. The NSCN-Khaplang fought with security forces; Bodo and Santhal groups clashed.

1998 After a government offensive against the largest insurgent group early in the year, the conflict reverted to its deadly combination of government-rebel skirmishes, abuses by security forces and rebel attacks on government officials and rival insurgent forces and their communities.

1997 Insurgent attacks on government forces and public transportation, skirmishes between government and rebel forces, factional feuds among rival insurgent groups and abuses by government forces all contributed to an escalation of regional violence in spite of ceasefires agreed to by some rebel groups.

1996 The year saw tensions in border areas shared with Nagaland. Ethnic clashes between Bodos and Adivasis killed at least 168 and created 168,000 refugees. Ambushes, clashes between ULFA rebels and police and army, and attacks on civilians killed dozens. Bodo rebel bombings, including a main railway in December, killed dozens more.

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: Media have estimated that between 20,000 and 25,000 have died in Nagaland alone. The South Asia Terrorism Portal reports that more than 20,942 people have died in the six affected states since 1992 (South Asian Terrorism Portal). It seems likely that at least 40,000 people have been killed since 1979.

2015 On the whole, fatalities fell significantly from 2014 to 2015. The South Asian Terrorism Portal reported 273 conflict deaths in India’s Northeast: 62 civilians, 49 security force personnel, and 162 terrorists. The decline in deaths was most noticeable in Assam, where numbers fell from 305 to 59. However, the number of conflict deaths increased by 40 in Manipur and 30 in Nagaland (South Asian Terrorism Portal).

Refugees and IDPs: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees indicated that there were 10,359 refugees and 22,414 asylum seekers originating from all conflicts in India (UNHCR).

2014 Fatalities rose sharply from 2013. The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported a total of 465 insurgency-related deaths: 245 civilians, 23 security forces, and 197 militants. Assam alone had 305 deaths.

Refugees and IDPs: Approximately 32,000 Bru refugees reside in camps in remote parts of Kanchanpur, Tripura. Approximately 300 Brus left relief camps in Tripura and returned to Mizoram as part of the sixth phase of the repatriation process of Bru refugees. Ten thousand people were displaced in Assam by clashes in August related to a border conflict between Assam and Nagaland. Total UNHCR counts for refugees and asylum seekers from India, which include all causes and three ongoing conflicts, are 11,155 and 13,684 respectively as of July 2014.

2013 According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, fatalities decreased in 2013 to 252: 95 civilians, 21 Security Forces, and 136 militants.

Refugees and IDPs: The UNHCR does not disaggregate the number of refugees from each of three ongoing conflicts in India. There were 11,784 refugees and 6,193 asylum seekers from India in mid-2013.

2012 According to the SATP, total deaths of 316 included 90 civilians and 226 combatants. Nearly all occurred in July and August. According to the International Crisis Group, in July conflict between the Bodo tribe and Muslim Bengalis resulted in 56 deaths and in August 95 people were killed in Assam.

Displaced: According to a State Home Department report, 5,000 houses in 244 Assam villages were set on fire. As of September 2012, 187,052 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were living in 206 camps. They included 168,875 Muslims and 17,344 Bodos. Subsequent reports stated that approximately 36,000 people were still living in camps.

2011 The number of fatalities continued to decline. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, approximately 247 people were killed, including 80 civilians, 35 security forces, and 135 militants. In Assam, the South Asia Terrorism portal recorded a 40-per-cent decline in militancy-related fatalities, from 158 in 2010 to 95. Civilian deaths dropped by 27 per cent as general security improved. Manipur experienced a 53-per-cent decline in the number of deaths, from 138 in 2010 to 65, according to the SATP.

2010 According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, there were 322 conflict-related deaths. In Assam, there were 158 deaths, including 48 civilians, 12 security forces and 98 militants. In Manipur, there were 138 deaths, including 26 civilians, 8 security forces and 104 militants. In Nagaland, three militants were killed.

2009 According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 843 deaths were reported. In Manipur, 416 died, including 164 civilians, 13 security forces and 292 militants. Assam saw 392 fatalities, including 167 civilians, 21 security forces and 183 militants. Seventeen deaths–seven civilian and 10 militant–were recorded in Nagaland. Tripura saw one militant death.

2008 More than 1,130 conflict deaths were reported across India’s Northeastern states, a 13-per-cent increase from 2007. The dead included 455 civilians, 46 security personnel and 631 militants. Three states accounted for more than 95 per cent of the deaths: Assam (387), Manipur (499) and Nagaland (201).

2007 More than 1,000 people were reportedly killed, including 453 civilians, 65 security personnel and 501 militants. Assam, Manipur and Nagaland had the largest number of fatalities, with Assam recording 437 deaths, Manipur 408 and Nagaland 108.

2006 An estimated 627 were killed in clashes. Manipur (280) and Assam (174) experienced the greatest number of deaths.

2005 More than 700 people were killed in rebel-government fighting, rebel attacks on political targets, inter-tribal and inter-rebel clashes and police suppression of street demonstrations.

2004 More than 800  civilians and combatants were killed, including those killed during attacks on rebel bases in Burma, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.

2003 Assam, Tripura and Manipur experienced the most violence, with approximately 1,000 deaths a direct result of the fighting. Ninety per cent of the dead were civilians and rebel fighters. An estimated 40 people were killed in Nagaland.

2002 Assam was the state most affected by violence, although casualties declined from 606 in 2001 to slightly more than 400. By the end of the year, the death toll in Manipur had reached 150. More than 30 people were killed in Nagaland. According to media reports, approximately 50 people were killed in Tripura.

2001 In Assam more than 600 were killed, in Nagaland, more than 100 and in Manipur, more than 250. In the region, approximately 1,400 people were killed.

2000 More than 1,700 people, including many civilians, were killed.

1999 More than 1,200 civilians, rebels and government forces were killed.

1998 More than 1,400 deaths, including at least 600 civilian, were reported.

1997 The year saw a total of nearly 1,700 deaths.

1996 At least 1,200 deaths from ethnic clashes, bombings, assassinations and isolated attacks were reported. One report cited more than 300 deaths in refugee camps arising from May ethnic clashes.

Political Developments

2015 Elections for Assam’s autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council were held in relative peace on April 8, with a heavy security presence. On August 3 the government concluded a peace agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM). In September the government declared the NSCN-K an illegal organization, after the NSCN-K killed at least 18 soldiers in June and withdrew from peace talks in August. The national government authorized a tactical military strike against an NSCN-K militant stronghold in Myanmar. The Times of India reported that India did not inform the government of Myanmar until the mission was largely completed (Times of India). In December India extradited Anup Chetia, general secretary of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), from Bangladesh. This move was the latest in a series of extraditions of ULFA leaders that began in 2009. The Hindustan Times reported that there was hope that Chetia would join ongoing peace talks between ULFA leaders and the government (Hindustan Times).

2014 In general elections, Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won seven seats in Assam and one seat in Arunachal Pradesh. This marked progress for the BJP in India’s northeast, which in 2009 won only four seats in Assam. In the 2014-15 national budget, newly elected Prime Minister Modi allocated $8.6 billion (U.S.) for infrastructure and telecommunications initiatives in the northeast. To alleviate some hardships faced by the victims of violence in Assam, in December Modi approved relief amounting to approximately $3,200 (U.S.) for the next of kin of people killed and $800 (U.S.) to each person seriously wounded in the Assam attacks. On December 22, the government added five more years to a ban on all factions of the NDFB.

The Mizoram home department revealed that the central government had allocated approximately $1,263,000 to support Bru refugees returning from Tripura. This did not meet the full demands of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), which in an announcement on February 9 demanded increased monetary support per family, food supplies for two years, and allocations of land. In Manipur on February 6, the United Naga Council (UNC) began the first round of talks with the Union Government in Senapati District on an Alternative Arrangement for Naga-inhabited areas of the State. In Nagaland, the Lenten Agreement was signed on March 28 in a move to reconciliation among three Naga militant groups—NSCN-IM, NSCN-KK and Naga National Council/Federal Government of Nagaland (NNC/FGN). In Meghalaya, the Garo National Liberation Army-Faction (GNLA-F), which split from the GNLA in 2013, reinvented itself as A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK) and further splintered this year, creating Achik Matgrik Elite Force (AMEF).

2013 At the Chief Minister’s conference on internal security in June, Prime Minister Singh and Union Home Minister Sushikumar Shinde highlighted the progress made in the Northeast to decrease levels of violence. Shinde noted that Suspension of Operations Agreements have been signed by numerous insurgent groups and, in February, several groups (URF, KCP, and KYKL) signed Memoranda of Understanding. Peace negotiations with the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland advanced. In October the Central government announced the creation of a new state, Telangana, that would separate from Andhra Pradesh in June 2014. As a result, tensions grew with Bodos, Karbis and Dimasas in Assam; tribal groups in Tripura; and Garos in Meghalaya.

2012 According to the State Director General of Police, “the present manpower strength of the Assam Police is very low…. The State Police is facing immense difficulties in maintaining the law and order.” Large areas of the Northeast are poorly governed; governmental gaps, coupled with widespread corruption, erode institutional capacity to contain violence. In August there were calls for a two-month general strike in parts of Assam to protest the state’s inability to prevent conflict. In response, the state banned strikes.

During the year, 707 rebels surrendered to state forces–676 in one January event that included rebels from seven different groups. More than 500 rebels were arrested, a 25-per-cent increase over 2011. Army chief Lalropuia and deputy army chief Biaknunga of the Hmar People’s Convention – Democracy, a rebel group operating in Assam, were among those arrested. Later in the year, the chairman of the HPC-D, which fights for the autonomy of the Mirozam region, was also arrested. The factions Dima Halam Daoga (the Black Widow group) and Dilip Nunsia signed a peace accord with the Central and State Governments, eight years after a ceasefire agreement. It was reported that the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang responded by attempting to expand its influence in Dima Hasao.

2011 As the result of negotiations and peace talks in Assam,  major rebel groups such as the UPDS surrendered their arms; talks continued between the ULFA and the government. India’s Congress Party was re-elected in May state elections. A report released in November by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that more than 76,000 people had been displaced by this conflict.

2010 The government held talks with the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the NSCN, the pro-talks faction of the ULFA, the pro-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, the Nunisa faction of the Dima Halim Daogah, Black Widow, United People’s Democratic Solidarity, Achik National Volunteer Council, Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front, Kuki National Organization and United Peoples Front. In March, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of the NSCN-IM met to discuss greater autonomy for Nagaland. The rebel forces wanted to integrate areas with pockets of the Naga population in the surrounding states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In May, peace talks between the government and NSCN-IM were held for the first time in Nagaland. In September, three rebel factions came together to form the Joint Working Group. The NSCN-IM, NSCN-K and the NNC decided to work together for Nagaland autonomy. Nineteen ULFA leaders surrendered and ULFA leader Arabinda Rajkhowa was released from prison on January 1, 2011. Rajkhowa indicated he was ready to engage in dialogue with the government. Commander-in-chief Paresh Barua led the faction of the ULFA that refused to engage in discussion. A change in leadership in neighbouring Bangladesh in 2009 ended support for many rebel groups from India’s Northeast.

2009 May elections, resulting in a victory for the Indian National Congress, were marked by escalations in violence. In Assam, only commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah of the UFLA’s executive council remained at large. Many members of Black Widow were forced to surrender in September and October after the arrest of commander-in-chief Jewel Gorlosa. Also in Assam, many UPDS militants surrendered.

2008 While several field commanders of the ULFA opted for a ceasefire and peace negotiations, violence continued. In Nagaland, a ceasefire was again extended; peace talks between the government and the NSCN-IM made only marginal progress. While there was some pre-poll violence, Nagaland Legislative Assembly elections were generally peaceful. Elections in the states of Meghalaya and Tripura were peaceful. The state of Manipur saw deteriorating conditions and was brought under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 for another year. This act also applies to Assam and gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search in assisting the civil power.

2007 The Nagaland ceasefire with the NSCN-IM was extended indefinitely. The leader of the NSCN-IM arrived in Delhi in December to continue peace negotiations. Elections in Manipur were mired in violence after Naga separatists attempted to block the participation of mainstream political parties. Burma’s military mobilized against Assamese separatist groups with bases in Burma.

2006 The Assam government and representatives from the ULFA attempted peace talks, with little success. In Nagaland, the ceasefire with the NSCN-IM was extended by six months and the ceasefire with the NSCN-K by another year. Efforts were made to better enforce India’s borders with Bangladesh and Burma. In Manipur, manyrefugees returned to their native villages. The Union Government sought to introduce a surrender and rehabilitation and reimbursement program in the provinces of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh.

2005 In July, the NSCN-IM extended a 1997 ceasefire for six months. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland signed a ceasefire agreement with the federal government; the Mizoram state government and the Bru National Liberation Front agreed to a peace accord, ending eight years of conflict. For the first time since 1992, peace talks were held between the Indian federal government and the United Liberation Front of Assam. A wave of protest swept West Bengal in September when tens of thousands of people of the Rajbongshi ethnic group demanded an independent state.

2004 In a change of policy, the Indian government announced it would meet with any rebel group that disavowed violence. Previously, the government would meet only with groups that had actively begun to disarm. A faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura indicated they were open to peace talks with the government.Several rebel groups announced ceasefires and began negotiations with the Indian government;  hundreds of rebels surrendered. Rebels in Assam rejected all offers of peace talks. Bhutan and Burma continued to attack Indian rebel bases in their territories. In support, India pledged additional training and military aid. India and Bangladesh undertook joint missions against Northeastern rebels for the first time. India and the United States pledged mutual aid in jungle-fighting as part of the U.S. war on terror. In a visit to Assam, India’s Prime Minister ruled out any discussion of sovereignty with separatists.

2003 The year saw a number of peace initiatives from insurgent groups and government officials. The main rebel group in Nagaland, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) met with the Indian government in January for unprecedented peace talks. The Bodoland Liberation Tiger Force, based in Assam, signed a peace agreement with the Indian government in January. After his capture in December, Bhimkanta Buragohain, the founder of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), called on his supporters to lay down their weapons and pursue their objectives through peaceful means.

2002 Two factions of the Kuki National Front agreed to cooperate in peace negotiations with the federal government. The Bodoland Liberation Tigers Force committed to peace talks in August after the authorities in Assam agreed to autonomy for the Bodos people. India accused Bangladesh and Bhutan of knowingly providing sanctuary to rebel groups active in Northeastern India.  India also accused Pakistan and China of supporting rebel groups to destabilize the region.

2001 The Indian government proposed unconditional peace talks with the ULFA. An Indian government agreement with rebels to extend a ceasefire beyond the state of Nagaland was opposed by neighbouring states. Between May and July as many as 18 people were killed in demonstrations against the ceasefire extension. At the end of July, the government reversed its decision.

2000 The United Liberation Front of Assam said that it would hold talks with Delhi under UN auspices only if Assam independence were discussed. In September, the Indian government and the Bodo Liberation Tigers agreed to extend their ceasefire by a year.

1999 A 1997 ceasefire, observed by most insurgent and government forces, was extended to July 2000.

1998 The Indian government extended a ceasefire with one Nagaland rebel group and oversaw the surrender of nearly 200 members of several insurgent forces.

1997 The creation in January of a Unified Command counterinsurgency system that combined army and police operations and an India-Bangladesh agreement increased pressure on rebel groups. An August 1 ceasefire between Indian government forces and NSCN-I/M was extended for an additional three months in October.

1996 The Asom Gana Parishad-led government assumed power in the state of Assam in 1996.


A number of ethnic groups in India’s Northeastern states, many of them historically autonomous, have been demanding greater autonomy or independence from India since regional incorporation into the Indian federal state in the 1950s. In some cases, such as Nagaland, this incorporation came through military invasion and occupation.

During the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947 and again when Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan in 1971, a large influx of Bengalis and other political refugees settled in the seven relatively less populated states of northeast India. Subsequent waves of economic refugees followed.

The indigenous population began to fear a loss of cultural identity, political power and its share of the region’s resources. Demands for independence grew. Various Indian governments, in an attempt to assimilate indigenous cultures, carried out discriminatory economic and political policies, fuelling the fears of indigenous people.

Ethnic-based independence groups, such as the United Liberation Front of Assam, the Bodo Security Force, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and the All Tripura Tiger Force, led the insurgency against the Indian government.

In the early 1990s, after the national government imposed direct rule on the state of Assam, a series of government successes appeared to sideline the ULFA, but by 1996 violence was on the rise throughout the region. In 1997, a Unified Command counterinsurgency system was created in Assam. The system combined army and police operations and brokered government agreements with neighbouring states to thwart cross-border insurgent activity.

A 1997 ceasefire between the government and one faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland was extended indefinitely in 2007. Since 1998, continuing pressure on insurgent groups has resulted in the surrender of more than 2,000 ULFA and Bodo rebels. The intensity of the conflict has varied as ceasefires were made and broken and as peace negotiations between the government and rebel factions failed to produce formal agreements.

Additionally, the militaries of Burma, Bhutan and Bangladesh have been drawn into the conflict, participating in joint missions and training with the Indian government.

Arms Sources

Although India has a significant domestic arms industry, it imports a large volume of arms. Deliveries in 2011 included 37 combat aircraft, 10 of 80 ordered helicopters and 100 tanks. In 2012, India commissioned a nuclear submarine from Russia. In 2013 India received shipments of weapons from Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which has identified India as a long-term strategic partner. Currently Russia is India’s largest arms supplier. India’s defence budget increased from just under $46.5-billion in 2014 to just under $48-billion in 2015 (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 486).

The rebels reportedly receive financial support from expatriate Indians in Malaysia. Like other rebel groups in South Asia, Assam rebels probably obtain weapons through the illicit drug and arms trades. In addition, some reports suggest that rebel groups steal large quantities of weapons from security forces. The Indian government has accused Bhutan and Bangladesh of providing arms to rebel groups. China has also reportedly supplied small arms to Nagaland rebels. It is believed that China has been trying to unify Maoists and militant groups from Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast region to create a “single war-fighting machine” to dismantle the Indian state.

Reports of illegal arms smuggled to rebel groups in India’s northeast emerged in 2004 after the discovery in Bangladesh of a large arms cache that included 10,000 weapons, 5,000 grenades and 300,000 rounds of ammunition. One of many caches seized in Bangladesh that year, its discovery fed fears that the rebel groups were better armed than previously believed.

In 2012 refugees living in Bhutan procured Chinese-made arms. There is fear of a new armed group.

Economic Factors

Groups fighting for independence accuse the Indian government of exploiting the region’s rich mineral resources, neglecting its economy and flooding the state with migrant settlers. Oil is a major factor in the conflict in Nagaland, since the region reportedly sits on a multibillion-dollar oil reserve. Tribes in Nagaland fear displacement when oil extraction begins. Nagas also want assurances that oil development will not harm the environment. If oil extraction begins without an agreement with the Naga people, an increase in violence in Nagaland appears likely. In a report issued on May 27, 2014, Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) highlighted the issues of taxation and illegal money collection schemes in Nagaland. According to ACAUT, both militants and government representatives charge large entry fees for commodities coming into the state, including essential goods.

Economic discrimination against minorities is widespread; wages in the region are 40 per cent lower than the national average. The region is a substantial supplier to other states of oil, rice and milk–products that the region must import–leading to claims that the regional people “aren’t Indian (ethnically, constitutionally) but the resources are.”

First Post reports that militant groups in the Northeast fund their activities in part from protection money paid by drug, tobacco and fake currency smugglers (First Post).

map: CIA Factbook

Click to Share