For the last one week,Jaraguri lower primary school in Gosaingaon has been home to 700 Bodo families with a head count of 3,419. Most of their houses have been burnt,rendering them homeless in their own land.
Rupak Basumatary,the camp in-charge,recounted how they set up a peace committee after trouble began in the first week of July. But those whom we were trying to protect turned into Mir Jafars (betrayers),attacking our homes with the help of outsiders, Basumatary said.
We have a sentiment,a community pride that was severely hurt. As our houses were reduced to ashes,we sought vengence,we retaliated and did the same to them, he added.
Tracing the cause of the recent ethnic flare-up,leaders on both sides said relations between Muslims and Bodos have been strained for quite some time. While the Bodo leadership is trying to revive its separate Bodoland demand,the Muslims have been opposing it,and have even set up an all-party forum that does not include the Bodos.
Amid the rising tension,there were sporadic incidents of violence. Rashmi Kanta Basumatary,a Bodo leader at Pakhirguri,recounted that when a Muslim mason was killed in Sapkata in May,the community suspected the Bodos although an inquiry blamed an Adivasi group. In another incident,two Muslims were killed and three injured in a shootout at Khasergao about a fortnight back. The Muslims again suspected the Bodos,although the police investigation indicated the involvement of other communities.
The immediate provocation,however,is considered to be the attack on an All Bodoland Minority Students Union leader,who was shot at by unidentified gunmen near Magurmari in the first week of July. He survived,but retaliation came in violent form as four former Bodo Liberation Tiger cadres were shot dead,and their bodies chopped.
As the news spread,clashes were reported in areas with mixed populations.
It will be difficult for us to accept them as neighbours again. We will not trust them anymore, said Purbari Narzari,who arrived at the Jaraguri school with 10 members of her family six days back.
Nithunjoy Basumatary,an All Bodoland Students Union leader,said posters have been put up in the villages asking the Bangladeshi Muslims to leave Bodoland. In some places they have reportedly been told to leave within three days, he said.
Mongal Chandra Basumatray,who has also sought shelter at the relief camp,said he has large land holdings in Burichitam village. Like in the past,he had given 16 bighas of land for cultivation to Muslim farmers this year also. While Mongal funded the expenses,the Muslim farmers provided the labour. As per their arrangement,they would share the crop equally. Planting of paddy was about 40 per cent over when the clashes began. There is no guarantee that the crop will be raised this season, said Mongal.
About 1,700 Bodo families have sought shelter at another camp in Dotma,about 20 km from Kokrajhar. Bana Brahma is one of them. There is no shortage of food at the camp. We are getting rice,dal and soyabean curry,but we want to return to our homes and start rebuilding from whatever is left, she added.
But the deep feeling of insecurity is stopping them from returning to their villages. While the visibility of security forces has improved marginally with the Army and BSF units conducting flag marches,the security posts are too few to restore the confidence of both the communities.