Many of those displaced in Assam are farmers and have to return before sowing season

For lakhs of people displaced by the ethnic and communal violence in this part of Assam, the main concern now is as much their safety and security as their livelihood since most of them are dependent on agriculture and want to return to their fields before the season for sowing paddy ends.

Raj Kumar Basumatary fled for his life when Parguna village was attacked by miscreants about a week ago. Today, as he passes time in a relief camp at S.K. Jewari School in Shikunjhara, he is as concerned about his future as he is angry that the peaceful villagers were targeted for no fault of theirs and two elderly persons who were unable to run ended up paying with their lives.

For Basumatary, a farmer, the main issue now is when he will be able to return to the village. “This is the sowing season and if we do not pluck the paddy sticks and plant them in the watered fields, we would not be able to get any crop,” he said.

But Basumatary is not willing to return to his village without any security. “Some youth from the camp have visited the village quietly. There is no one there right now. The attackers fled after torching most of the 105 houses. But the question is what if they return to kill us?” he said, fear clearly showing on his face.

As he recalls how most of the attackers had their faces covered and wielded “turwal” or long sharp-edged weapons with which they hacked some of the victims, Basumatary said the government should quickly help the villagers get back to their homes and professions. “Now the rains are there. We have to sow paddy. We may not have clothes or shelter over our head, but if we do not sow paddy, then we will have nothing to eat.”

A local politician said the violence affected primarily the farming community and that too at a time when the sowing season was on. “Nearly 95 per cent of all people — both Hindus and Muslims — are in one way or the other directly engaged in agriculture and paddy is the main crop in this part of the State,” said Santosh Tarafdar.

He noted that July-August was the sowing season and the crop had to be cut four months later. “If you do not sow now, the paddy plant will not grow. By the time the violence began, only 20-30 per cent of farmers had raised paddy in the watered fields.”