CHIRANG/ KOKRAJHAR: In the relief camps set up for the victims of the recent ethnic violence that has rocked the twin districts of Chirang and Kokrajhar in Western Assam, bordering Bhutan, the gloomy faces of the relief camp inmates are darker than the overcast skies, and tell the story of their sufferings.
The spate of violence has spared none in these two districts, irrespective of community. This is an apparent sign that the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) – a Sixth Schedule administrative arrangement in which the two districts fall – and the state government have not learnt any lessons from the ethnic clash that bled Udalguri district in 2008. Over one lakh people were displaced and many killed in the 2008 ethnic violence in Udalguri, which is also under BTC. The BTC covers four districts – Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri.
If Shahadat Ali (35) of Besorbari village in Chirang lost everything in the mindless violence, Durga Basumatary of Malgaon in Kokrajhar had to run for safety leaving behind her home and property.
It was a cloudy Monday evening when Shahadat, an autorickshaw driver, was preparing for Iftar with his family, that a horde of miscreants gutted his house. “We could not save any of our belongings. We rushed to the relief camps for safety with empty hands,” he said.
At least eight minority-dominated villages in Chirang were gutted by miscreants on Monday. The arson continued even on Tuesday, with more villages with Muslim populations being attacked.
About 5,000 people from different villages neighbouring Besorbari are currently put up in three relief camps at Nangalbhanga, also in Chirang. About 150 houses were gutted in these villages.
On the other hand, the Bodos tell similar tales of suffering. Durga Basumatary’s village, Malgaon, in Kokrajhar was set on fire by miscreants on Tuesday morning. About 50 houses were gutted in the village. The fear hangs heavy in Durga’s words: “We ran for our lives when our village was set ablaze. I didn’t know where I was going when I left my village. My husband went in another direction.”
While the Muslims are upset the violence has disrupted their holy month of Ramzan, the Bodos are no longer upbeat about the forthcoming post-harvest Nangalkrah festival as the current rice cultivation season has been spoiled by the turmoil. In Kokrajhar, more than 25 villages belonging to both the Bodos and the Muslims have been gutted since Monday night.
Tension prevailed at Sishubari in Chirang till Tuesday noon when miscreants, armed with firearms and sharp weapons, came onto the banks of River Huthoti, which divides Bodo and Muslim-dominated villages. The standoff was cleared after both sides assured that they would not enter into each other’s villages.
“Both sides have agreed not to enter the other community’s villages. We are much relieved after our discussions,” said All Bodoland Minority Students Union (ABMSU) leader Shahjahan Ali Ahmed.
While Sishubari is relieved for the time-being, in other villages across Chirang and Kokrajhar, fear and suspicion prevail. All outsiders and unknown faces are being chased out. Even journalists are not allowed to enter some of the villages.
Amid fear of arson and attacks, people continued to rush to the 50-odd relief camps in Chirang and Kokrakhar districts on Tuesday. People also fled the BTC area to safety. About 600 Bodos have taken shelter in Kajalgaon relief camps, while over 5,000 Muslims have left their villages from different parts of Chirang.
Since Friday, over 60,000 people have been displaced and at least 32 killed so far. Unofficially, though, three persons were killed at Sapkata in Kokrajhar and one in Chirang on Tuesday.
As the violence continued, sane voices clamouring for peace and harmony started emerging from both the communities. “We’ve had enough bloodshed. We want peace among the different communities in the BTC area. I don’t understand why the government is failing in its duty to ensure security to common people,” said Sopra Mushahary of Kokrajhar.
ABMSU Chirang working president Shah Kamal Khondekar said, “We want to live in peace and harmony. We want an end to this violence as it brings no benefit to anyone.”