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India's riot-affected yearn for peace

Aug 27, 2012

Nearly half a million people, displaced due to ethnic riots in India's North-East state of Assam as well as those who migrated out of fear from south India have begun to pick up their lives slowly. The riot-affected say that they would like to see peace return soon so that they could go back to their lives as earlier.

Life has changed overnight for about five lakh people in Assam, displaced due to ethnic violence in Dhubri as well as the Bodoland Territorial Administered Districts of Chirang and Kokrajhar. The unease began on July 6, when two members of the Muslim community were killed by miscreants in Musalmanpara under Gosaingaon police station in Kokrajhar district of Western Assam. This was wrongly understood to have been caused by Bodos and the mere suspicion of Bodo involvement in this stray incident triggered communal clashes.

The consequent clashes that flared in many parts of India led to unprecedented displacement within the country.

Sources in the state government point out that the miscreants were in fact from the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), an extremist organisation working in North Bengal. This misunderstanding led to communal clashes that went out of control and even now killings are being reported.

With lakhs still in relief camps, Pramod Boro, President of the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), recommends a time bound policy for rehabilitation of those displaced in the ethnic violence. “The government should evolve a permanent policy to resolve all impending issues that the people of Assam are facing. The illegal migrants issue should be solved as also the indigenous land problem. In Assam, the indigenous people feel suffocated and threatened. We have lost 20 people in the clashes and some are still missing. This is a law and order failure and is a man made calamity. The government has to pay for this.”

Boro says that the amount of Rs 30,000 announced by the Prime Minister for reconstruction of homes gutted during the clashes is not enough. “In Dhubri district, six Bodo villages were totally burnt down, compelling inhabitants to flee to relief camps in Kokrajhar district. Bodos may be less than half of the total numbers left in the relief camps, but, they need to return home. The government ought to do a proper assessment to evaluate the losses suffered by the people.”

Abdur Rahim Ahmed, President of All Assam Minority Students' Union dismisses the presence of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in BTAD areas, as "false."

"This cycle of revenge has to stop somewhere. It will stop only if the Central government takes urgent steps to safeguard the interests of all communities of Bodoland areas. The Bodos continue to have illegal arms. These should be taken away by the government."

This is something that the government too has been making noise about.

Dir Mohammad Mandol, a 40-year-old skilled worker, said that he fled his village on July 22 with his wife, Ozima Biwi and three children, after he saw armed men wearing black masks and heard gunshots. “We have been in Assam for many generations and would like to live peacefully with all communities,” he declares pre-empting questions about his being an immigrant Muslim of Bangladeshi origin.

The clashes between the Muslims and Bodos is one story. The displacement of those who reached homes from South India after attacks on the North-Easterners by Muslims is another one. Once the people from the North-East reached homes, they were struck by the reality of unemployment and a bleak future. Homecoming has not been easy due to the absence of sustenance allowance from the state government.

With assurances from the state government, the terrified people are going back to their places of work. Assam Home Secretary Gyanendra Dev Tripathi says: “We are facilitating their return. Everybody is willing to go back. We are increasing the frequency of trains to Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune. I understand that at least 4,000 to 5,000 North-East migrants who had returned to Assam have gone back or are in the process of returning.”

For those who had to rush to the state to be with their loved ones, life is still not easy. Laharam Wary, 32, a store keeper with the Central Reserve Police Force was in Srinagar when he saw on television channels the disturbing reports of destruction in Bamungaon Part II village in Assam. A telephone call from home confirmed his worst fears. The house he had built on his ancestral land, four years ago with all his savings had been burnt. Wari rushed by air to Jammu and then travelled 37 hours by train to be with his family, only to be told that they were in a relief camp in Kokrajhar Commerce College.

Wary had to apply for an extension of his leave. Armed with a bamboo stick, he guards his 86- year-old father, who is frail and sick, and is in his brother’s house, a stone’s throw from Wari’s charred house. The Bodo menfolk cook together under the open sky in the company of pet dogs and pigs. During the day, some women come from relief camps and clean the house but don’t feel secure enough to return.

Home Secretary Gyanendra Deb Tripathi has a roadmap in mind. “Our strategy for confidence building is to enhance inter community dialogue, instill peace in the minds of people by deploying sufficient security forces, take action against the culprits involved in the crime through neutral investigation and rebuilding their faith by effective rehabilitation in their villages.”

The one thing in common in relief camps is the innocence and warmth of children who thought the relief camp was a playground. Both Bodo and Muslim children posed in front of the camera, unmindful of the hardships of their parents.  Their smile gives their parents the courage to hope for a better tomorrow.

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