It’s been five days since suspected ULFA militants killed Nandalal Shah, 65, and his daughter, Kajol, 18, in Bijuliban, a village about 48 kilometres from Tinsukia town. Four other members of the family, who were injured in the attack, are still undergoing treatment at the Assam Medical College Hospital in Dibrugarh.
“The eyes of my father, struggling for life, with several bullets in his body will always remain in my mind. Look at these bullet holes on the walls of our house. My sister, Kajol, was hit by a bullet which pierced through three thatch-and-mud walls,” said Lalan Shah, 28, pointing at the bullet holes on the walls.
“They did not demand any money from us. They knocked on our door, said they were Army personnel and asked for a glass of water. My father gave them a bench in the front yard. They then immediately sprayed bullets on him and on our house,” said Lalan. The bloodstains are still visible on the floor.
Bijuliban, like most other villages in this eastern part of Tinsukia district, has a significant population of people who trace their roots to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The Shah family originally hails from Jalalpur in Uttar Pradesh.
“Our grandfather, Haridwar Prasad Shah, came to Assam in the 1920s and first worked as a labourer near Tezpur. He later shifted to Rohbari near here, where our father was born,” said Lalan, who, along with his two siblings, attended an Assamese-medium school.
While the Hindi-speaking population has been targeted several times in the past — the worst being in 2003 and 2007 — just one family was attacked this time, allegedly by two or three ULFA militants.
“Both in 2003 and 2007, they attacked almost every Hindi-speaking family in this area. At least 12 people were killed in those two rounds of attacks, and many houses were set on fire. But hardly any family ran away. We are all here because we have nowhere to go. We no longer belong to Bihar or UP. We belong to this place,” said Lalan.
The Shah family has a small bicycle repair shop, a grocery shop and a small rice-milling machine, apart from four bighas of tea bushes. “Feeding 19 mouths is not easy. Only God can help us now,” said Lalan’s brother, Lakhan.
While policemen continue to patrol the area, the residents have gone back to their daily routines. “Yes, it was a ghastly incident, but life has to go on,” said Biswanath Mahato, a shopkeeper in the nearby Gabharubheti village.
His said his father left Bihar and moved to Assam in the 1940s. “We hardly have any link with our ancestral family in Bihar. We have become Assamese,” said his son Suresh, who runs a small homestead tea estate.
“I went to an Assamese school, so did my four sons and a daughter. Now my grandchildren too go to Assamese schools. But some people still think we are outsiders,” rued Biswanath.
Meanwhile, several VIPs and politicians, including former Dibrugarh MP and former union minister Paban Singh Ghatowar, Tinsukia MLA Rajendra Prasad Singh, Union Minister of State for Sports Sarbananda Sonowal and Doomdooma MLA Dilip Moran visited the Shah family.