October 6, 2008 1:55:35 am
Rekindling memories of the Nellie massacre a quarter century ago, violent clashes between Bodo tribals and migrant Muslims have claimed at least 30 lives — the unofficial count is over 50 dead — in the last three days in the north Assam districts of Udalguri and Darrang.
In village after village, houses have been torched and smoke columns are visible all around — in Rowta, Dalgaon, Kharupetia, Bhakatpara, Udalguri. People are fleeing in hundreds as the violence continues unchecked. Over 60,000 people, both Bodos and Muslims, have taken shelter in 32 relief camps in Udalguri district alone.
Shoot-at-sight orders have been issued while indefinite curfew has been clamped across Udalguri districts and parts of Darrang. “At least 30 people have died in the past three days. Five were killed today when security forces opened fire,” said Subhash Chandra Das, Principal Secretary (Home). There have been casualties on both sides, Bodos as well as Muslims, he said.
Though the initial clashes broke out between Bodo tribals and migrant Muslims, members of other communities, including Assamese and Bengali Hindus, have been equally affected. At least eleven columns of the Army have spread out in addition to five companies of Central paramilitary forces and Assam Police battalions.
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Traffic on National Highway 52 — it runs through north Assam and provides access to Arunachal Pradesh — has been totally stopped between Mangaldoi and Dhekiajuli.
The state government has suspended Udalguri SP Bijoy Kuligam while the Deputy Commissioner has been replaced.
Tension had been prevailing in Udalguri district since August 14 when two Bodo boys were killed in a clash during a 12-hour bandh called by a little-known organisation called Muslim Students’ Union of Assam.
“We were at home when a large group of people, armed with all kinds of weapons, attacked our village and began torching the houses,” said Brajen Basumatary (52) of village Sonaripara, about 5 km from Udalguri. That was on Friday. Today, almost all 58 families of Sonaripara are in the relief camp at Udalguri High School. All their belongings, including cattle and poultry, perished in the blaze.
The relief camp at the High School is now home to 1,119 people, mostly Bodos. “Not all houses have been burnt. But we are very insecure. They have deadly weapons,” said Purna Deka whose father Kandura Deka was killed on the first day of the clashes at village Phakidiya.
Kandura Deka was hacked to death and then thrown into a burning house.
On Friday, Rakesh Swargiari, a Bodo youth from village Mohanpur under Udalguri police station, was kidnapped by some miscreants. He was later found unconscious in the jungles nearby and moved to a hospital in Tezpur. News of the incident spread like wildfire and clashes broke out.
Nonibala Singha (63) of Ikrabari village is still searching for her son Babloo. “He had gone out with the other boys of the village to keep a night watch on Friday. I have not seen him since then,” said Nonibala whose house too has been reduced to ashes.
Ramnath Brahma, a Bodo tribal of Sonaripara village, who was appointed convenor of a peace committee by the district authorities, is himself in a relief camp today. “Peace, communal harmony no longer have any meaning here. Our very lives, existence are at stake. I think the Bodo tribals and the indigenous people will have to first defend themselves,” he said.
In the adjoining Darrang district, the situation is very tense. Armed groups from both sides have positioned themselves on either side of the road to defend their villages. The CRPF and Army jawans are trying to prevent a clash.
Two persons were killed when the CRPF opened fire on a mob in village Tiyajara near Bhakatpara, inhabited by migrant Muslims, after they tried to attack securitymen with arrows. In Punia-Warpara, four persons were hacked to death by a mob even as a police party was patrolling the area.
Mujibur Rahman (56), now at the relief camp at Dalgaon Madrasa in Darrang district, said his village was set ablaze by tribals last night. “They want us out. They want our land. They think we are Bangladeshis,” said Rahman. Over 600 Muslims have taken shelter in this camp.
Darrang, one of the six Muslim-majority districts of Assam, has 14 relief camps and Deputy Commissioner Dhrubajyoti Hazarika estimates that at least 10,000 people have packed these camps.
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