This article examines the framing of ‘ethnic conflict’ in Northeast India, focusing on militant groups and insurgency in the hill areas of Assam and a form of political violence known locally as ‘ethnic clashes’. The article argues that ‘ethnic clashes’ have become an institutionalized form of armed violence in the region, while ‘ethnic rivalry’ is a key diagnostic frame for conflict. As enactments and imaginaries of institutionalized violence, ‘ethnic clashes’ are a product of actors who hold stakes in representing armed political violence as a result of ‘ethnic conflict’ between rivaling tribal communities. The article looks at the representation of causes of conflict as well as the framing of acts of violence as key sites of contestation, and thus as integral aspects of the conflict. This raises questions about the feasibility of scholarly efforts to make sense of specific cases of conflict via generic categories such as the ‘ethnic conflict’.