Guwahati: A year ago, to expect a group of Bodo and Adivasi boys play a football match together in parts of lower Assam would be fairly far-fetched. But last week in Kokrajhar, that is exactly what they did.
After nearly a hundred people from the Adivasi community were massacred in different parts of Bodoland by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland or NDFB, a massive distrust had formed between the two communities.
Today, that chasm is being filled slowly by the humble football.
In Assam, where football already sees a large following, it is not very difficult to motivate the youth to take up the ball instead of a gun, officials say. But the change in environment is palpable.
"A decade ago people were scared to come out of their homes to the streets. This is one of the highest insurgency affected areas," said Sports Authority of India official Subhash Basumatary.
A relentless operation of the security forces led by Indian Army in lower Assam for nearly a year has broken the back bone of the NDFB militants, security officials say.
Most militant commanders and cadres have been either neutralised or arrested, restoring a sense of peace, they say.
Yet this, they say, is the phase when the militant groups try to recruit youths from the area. In a bid to thwart the efforts, the Indian Army has taken to promoting football.
"Today we have a spectacular victory and have put almost all NDFB Militant behind bars. Peace has been restored we can say. Now we are trying to build," said Lieutenant General Sarath Chand, General Officer Commanding of Gajraj 4 Corp of Indian Army that looks after Lower Assam.
The Bodoland Territorial Council led by militant-turned-politician Hagrama Mohilary has also teamed up with Indian Army to organise a football tournament between remote villages of Bodoland. Next, even a football academy is on the cards, authorities say.