More than 600 members of eight extremist groups in Assam gave up arms at an official programme on January 23, but one of them — the National Liberation Front of Bengalis (NLFB) — has raised eyebrows.Reports quoting people in districts such as Baksa and Chirang in western Assam said many of the 301 surrendered members of the “little-known” NLFB were petty traders or minor craftsmen such as carpenters. This has led to questions regarding the so-called “surrender drama” and of the members of “equally obscure” outfits such as the National Santhal Liberation Army and the Adivashi Dragon Fighters who allegedly laid down arms.However, Assam police officials claimed that there was nothing fishy about these organisations and questions regarding their existence could be attributed to the general tendency of downplaying militancy associated with certain communities.Officials admitted that Bengali militancy has not been as intense or violent as that of other ethnic groups in Assam.“What can we do if a few choose to ignore or belittle us? It is true that most of us are into petty trade, farming, carpentry, masonry and other activities. But we underwent training for these under a rehabilitation package in 2018, four years after initiating talks with former Director General of Police Khagen Sarma and even meeting former Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi. Isn’t it better to work for a living honourably than resorting to extortion and burglary?” Amarjit Paul, chairman of the now-disbanded NLFB told The Hindu in Chirang district.Mr Paul said their group was formed with 22 people in December 2010 to demand a council for the Bengali people and end the victimisation of the community. “We have newspaper clippings of subversive activities such as carrying out the Kamakhya Express (train) blast in 2010 as proof of our existence,” he added.The NLFB, according to intelligence reports, took off when the Bengali Tiger Force (BTF) became defunct. The BTF was formed in December 1996 with Subhash Chandra Sarkar as its chairman and worked in tandem with the disbanded Bodo Liberation Tigers but all its 325 members surrendered in August 1999.“Our membership from across seven districts swelled to more than 300. Most of us surrendered while a few went their way,” Mr. Paul claimed.Hiren Nath, the Inspector General of Police (Special Branch) and head of the rehabilitation programme called Swabalamban said some 1,800 surrendered extremist have been given training and 1,200 of them provided with ₹1 lakh to engage in income-generating activities.“The authenticity of the cadres is verified by the district superintendents of police and other security agencies over a period of time. Then there is a multi-agency Screening Committee which carries out further checks. All the NLFB cadres and the others came through that process,” he said.“You may ask why 644 militants surrendered 177 firearms. The 50 members of the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent deposited only 24 firearms. One has to understand that not all members of an outfit are fighters; some are couriers, some linkmen, others in the political wing,” Mr Nath said.A defence officer, declining to be quoted, said the NLFB members had to be brought to the mainstream as they had formed a group, underwent training and had weapons. But he admitted “two-three people” who work on the periphery or had cursory association with extremist groups do get benefits.“What is the harm if some youth, whom the government cannot give jobs, get a stipend through the rehabilitation programme and start a livelihood? The ultimate goal is to fight unemployment,” he said.