Looking at her two children playing with a toy-gun on the floor in the auditorium of Commerce College, Kokrajhar, 20-something Jamuna Basumatary has no expression in her eyes. For, her thoughts are on what could have happened and what ought not to happen to her husband and father-in-law, who have been missing ever since her Baswary village, on the outskirts of this Assam township, was attacked by miscreants on Tuesday.
Jamuna is not alone. There are many other women in this camp who complain of missing male members of their families. Adding to their anxiety are daily reports of more bodies being found on fields and in rivers. Jamuna said a 500-strong mob entered her village in broad daylight, forcing the people to flee. Clutching her two children, she ran for life. Her only prayer now is to see her husband Soga and father-in-law Dumay alive and well.
Stories of such horror are repeated in this camp. The reason: 26 villages with a predominantly Bodo population have been burnt, and many more ravaged. And it is not that innocent Muslims have not fallen prey to this mindless cycle of violence. As many as 22 families living at Chandamari Bagicha (tea garden) here suffered the same fate, as their Hindu neighbours settled old scores. Here again, the attack took place around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, and — as it has become a common refrain by now — security personnel were nowhere to be seen.
While so far most of those killed have received injuries from sharp weapons, there have also been instances of gunfire used by the miscreants.
Neelkamal Basumatary, who reached the camp along with his wife and four children three days ago, said the mob that invaded his Bamungaon Halipara village near the Dhumbri district border set fire to all houses. “They had come with the intention of looting and burning. We just ran out and fled. I have come with only this dhoti and T-shirt,” he said, tears rolling down his eyes. “We spent the first night at a police camp and then came here.”
Sushanto Nargary, Head of the Department of History at Government College, alleged that in some cases, the police watched as the houses of Bodos were torched. “Why were they supporting them? Who knows?” He has been working as a volunteer at the camp for the past many days.
In fact, there are others like Manik Chandra Basumatary and Masewary Arwary who have been spending time at the camp as volunteers, distributing medicines. Those at the camp insist that government aid has been grossly inadequate. “But for the water tanker they have stationed here and the fact that the government school has been opened up, nothing has been done to provide those affected with clothing or monetary aid,” alleged a volunteer adviser.
A few kilometres away, at Magurmary High School, the violence has brought Bodos, Adivasis, Nepalis and Bengalis together like never before. For, they have a common enemy in the invaders who made them flee their homes. Bebo, who studied in the same school and who resides at Seshapani, said it was around 8 p.m. on Saturday when the village was raided. “We heard gunshots and fled. First, we ran to the police camp and stayed there overnight, and then we came here.”
Educated up to Standard VII, Bebo wants to pursue her studies and return home. But she will be happy to be in the camp till such time normality returns. “At least, we have safety and food here.”
It appears that this is the case with almost each of the 89,812 refugees who have reported in the 75 camps opened in the Kokrajhar, Gossaigaon and Parbatganj areas.
Of the 27 camps in Kokrajhar, 21 are being used by Bodos and five by Muslims. The remaining one is occupied by others. Of the 33,517 people residing in these camps, 26,117 are Bodos, 5,700 Muslim and 1,700 others. This just gives the magnitude of the scale of human suffering.
Keywords: Kokrajhar communal violence