Com­mu­nal ha­tred rav­ages the state as old ten­sions sur­face. The chief min­is­ter’s in­ept­ness deep­ens the cri­sis.

India Today - - NATION - By Kaushik Deka in Chi­rang

Ameena Begum, 46, was wait­ing for her son, San­war Ali, to come home for lunch af­ter work­ing in the fam­ily’s one bigha plot at Makhanaguri vil­lage in Chi­rang dis­trict. It was 2 p. m. on July 22 when neigh­bours brought home Ali’s body. He had been shot dead. She fled from there, tak­ing her daugh­ter- in- law and grand­son with her, seek­ing shel­ter in a jun­gle un­til they found their way to a makeshift refugee camp in a pri­mary school in Pu­rani Bi­jni, 20 km away. With lit­tle food in the camp and nowhere else to go, Ameena doesn’t know where her next meal will come from. Fif­teen kilo­me­tres away in Khu­ju­ramguri, a preg­nant Sushila Bodo, 22, and her fam­ily saw smoke ris­ing from a neigh­bour­ing Mus­lim set­tle­ment. Fear­ing re­tal­i­a­tion, they fled to a re­lief camp and on July 23, amid strangers and with­out any med­i­cal care, Sushila gave birth to a baby boy.

Over 47 peo­ple have been killed in sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence in As­sam since July 20, when vi­o­lence broke out in the Bodo Ter­ri­to­rial Au­ton­o­mous Dis­tricts ( BTAD). Mus­lims per­ceive it as a well thought out plan to drive them out of BTAD. Among the dead are 11 Bo­dos. “If it was a com­mu­nal riot, the toll would have been much higher. But the at­tack­ers are tar­get­ing our homes. The Bo­dos don’t want us in Bodoland,” says Jamil Ali, 35, from Howrahguri vil­lage in Chi­rang dis­trict, whose house was burned down and ve­hi­cle taken away.

Ali could be right. Mus­lim vil­lages in Chi­rang dis­trict have been torched but there is hardly any dam­age to Bodo set- tle­ments. But most Bo­dos are in re­lief camps, fear­ing re­tal­i­a­tion. The vi­o­lence has es­ca­lated. Over 200,000 peo­ple from 400 vil­lages have moved to 120 re­lief camps with­out san­i­ta­tion or med­i­cal care, and barely enough to eat.

The state gov­ern­ment had ad­e­quate warn­ing of trou­ble brew­ing. On July 7, state Congress Vice- Pres­i­dent Y. L. Karna went to Kokra­jhar fol­low­ing the murder of two mi­nor­ity stu­dent lead­ers on July 6. Karna told IN­DIA TO­DAY that in his re­port sub­mit­ted to Chief Min­is­ter Tarun Go­goi, he had writ­ten that the sim­mer­ing ten­sion be­tween Bo­dos and Mus­lims— mostly il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh— could soon es­ca­late into a riot if im­me­di­ate steps were not taken to pre­vent it. The chief min­is­ter did not re­act till Kokra­jhar started burn­ing two weeks later. Go­goi held a meet­ing with top po­lice of­fi­cials on July 8 to re­view the law and or­der sit­u­a­tion, but the re­port was not dis­cussed. “Had the chief min­is­ter swung into ac­tion then, lives could have been saved,” Karna said.

Some Mus­lim or­gan­i­sa­tions al­lege the gov­ern­ment is in col­lu­sion with the at­tack­ers. “On July 22, no gov­ern­ment force was de­ployed to our vil­lage. But we found a bul­let that be­longs to As­sam Po­lice dur­ing the at­tack that day. Bodo teenagers were shoot­ing at us,” says Sai­ful Haq, 28, pres­i­dent of Bi­jni unit of All BTAD Mi­nor­ity Students Union.

That the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the at­tack has been lack­lus­tre is ev­i­dent from the res­ig­na­tion of Bi­jni SDPO Narayan Das. Sources close to Das told IN­DIA TO­DAY that the SDPO was asked not to take ac­tion against the ri­ot­ers. His re­quest for more forces was also turned

down. “He saw no point in don­ning the uni­form as he could not save lives,” says a po­lice of­fi­cer in Bi­jni.

There are other in­di­ca­tors to sug­gest that the cur­rent clash could have been planned against Mus­lim set­tlers. While two vil­lages, Bhe­la­tol and Basar­bari, in Chi­rang dis­trict have be­come ghost set­tle­ments, it’s busi­ness as usual in ad­ja­cent Batabari, dom­i­nated by KochRa­jbang­shi trib­als of As­sam. Bar­ring three Mus­lim homes, not a sin­gle other home was torched in Batabari. In Basar­bari and Bhe­la­tol too, Bodo homes re­mained un­touched. “We knew we wouldn’t be af­fected,” says Manoran­jan Bar­man, 38, a Ra­jbang­shi farmer from Batabari, as he ploughs his land while con­voys of armed forces drive past.

“The at­tack­ers knew which houses be­longed to Mus­lims. The idea is not to kill us but to drive us out,” says Haq. Agrees a se­nior Congress MLA who did not want to be named: “The next tar­get will be Adi­va­sis. The Bo­dos don’t want non- Bo­dos in their land. Soon they will restart their ag­i­ta­tion for a sep­a­rate Bodoland and there will be none to op­pose inside their ter­ri­tory.”

BTAD is ad­min­is­tered by Bodoland Ter­ri­to­rial Coun­cil ( BTC), an au­ton­o­mous coun­cil which formed af­ter the sign­ing of a tri­par­tite peace ac­cord among Bodo Lib­er­a­tion Tigers mil­i­tants, the As­sam gov­ern­ment and the Cen­tre in Fe­bru­ary 2003. BTC Deputy Chair­man Kampa Bor­goyri’s state­ment that Mus­lims who have fled the area should not be al­lowed to re­turn points a fin­ger at BTC’s role in the vi­o­lence. “If they re­turn, it will lead to prob­lems,” he said.

On July 6 two mem­bers of the All Bodoland Mi­nor­ity Students’ Union were shot dead by uniden­ti­fied peo­ple at An­thi­hara in Kokra­jhar dis­trict. Soon af­ter, uniden­ti­fied men fired at a group of peo­ple killing one per­son on the spot while an­other suc­cumbed to his in­juries in the hospi­tal. On July 20, four ac­tivists of for­mer mil­i­tant out­fit Bodo Lib­er­a­tion Tigers were shot dead by uniden­ti­fied per­sons in Joy­pur. In re­tal­i­a­tion, armed Bo­dos at­tacked Mus­lims and soon vi­o­lence spread across the four dis­tricts of BTAD— Chi­rang, Baska, Kokra­jhar and Sonit­pur— and Bon­gaigaon and Dhuburi.


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