At least 12 persons including three women were killed — 10 persons in police firing and two in ethnic clashes between Rabha and non-Rabha groups in Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC) areas in southern Assam’s Goalpara district on Tuesday.
The clashes have triggered huge exodus of people from the affected and nearby villages. Fleeing villagers have taken shelter in some railway stations in the violence-hit areas after miscreants set ablaze about 80 houses in two villages — a Rabha and a non-Rabha one.
Army called out
Curfew has been clamped in areas under Krishnai police station of the district and the Army was called out to assist the police and central paramilitary forces to prevent escalation of the situation. The Army carried out a flag march in the affected areas.
Assam Home Secretary G.D. Tripathi told The Hindu that 10 persons including three women were killed when police resorted to firing at five places under Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC) areas after mobs opposing holding of panchayat elections in the tribal council areas turned violent and attacked polling stations and polling teams and resorted to widespread violence.
He said two persons were reported killed in clashes between miscreants among the Rabhas and non-Rabhas during which about 80 houses were torched. However, there was no official confirmation as bodies had not been recovered or located. The Home Secretary said there were reports of people taking shelter in railway stations in the violence-hit districts.
Mr. Tripathi said there were four incidents of police firing at polling stations and another near the Krishnai police station when about a 1000-strong mob attacked a police party.
The Rabha-Hasong Joint Movement Committee, the banner organisation of 34 Rabha bodies, had enforced a 36-hour “Janata Curfew” in RHAC areas beginning 7 a.m. on Monday to resist the holding of panchayat polls in Council areas.
On Monday night, miscreants torched a wooden bridge, school buildings, housing areas, polling centres and market places. Armed activists staged a road blockade by felling logs and digging up roads to obstruct poll teams from reaching booths.
Describing the incidents resulting in loss of lives and injuries as “most unfortunate,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said in a statement that the State government had to hold the panchayat elections in the RHAC areas “as it considers it to be its constitutional duty.”
The State government, he said, had promised to hold elections to the Council once the panchayat elections were over. The Chief Minister said polling would be held at a later date in areas where it was not possible on Tuesday.
The Chief Minister announced an ex gratia of Rs. five lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 each to those who sustained injuries. The government would also provide compensation to those whose houses were either partially or fully damaged.
Opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) held the Gogoi-led government responsible for the RHAC incidents and alleged that they were a result of the “imposition” of panchayat polls in the Council areas.
Between 2001 and June 2011, altogether 125 persons were killed and 202 persons injured in 54 incidents of police firing in Assam.
The RHAC was constituted in 1995 along with two other autonomous councils — the Mising and the Tiwa Autonomous Councils by the Congress government led by Hiteswar Saikia. However, the elections to the RHAC had not been held till date and for the past 18 years the Council was run by an ad hoc body appointed by the State government.