Army stages flag march in tense Assam town

As Assam continues to burn and the body count has been rising by the day, people are unable to fathom whether this is ethnic strife, communal violence or a turf war over land or simply genocide. The claims and counter-claims by the parties in the middle and the belief of many that political vested interests are behind this dirty game have raised a lot of smoke around the fire.

Kokrajhar, where shoot-at-sight orders are in force, remained tense, as curfew was relaxed for four hours on Wednesday. All roads leading to this town are out of bounds, with no taxis or trucks plying on the highways from Guwahati. A flag march by the Army and the heavy presence of paramilitary forces in the town speak volumes of the situation.

Amid talk of large-scale violence in villages, the Deputy Commissioner’s account of the situation in Kokrajhar gave little solace. Twenty-three people have died, including seven women, and 11 have been injured. The administration has been forthcoming on splitting the dead between Bodos and Muslims. But none can explain why this situation has been allowed to build up.

A fact-finding delegation of the BJP, led by general secretary Vijay Goel, alleged after a visit to Kokrajhar that the administration was slow to act when six Muslims, including two student leaders, were attacked in three separate incidents since early this month. This was followed by the killing of four former Bodo Liberation Tigers workers and then the violence spread.

Ironically, both Bodo and Muslim leaders see a design in the violence. There is also talk of an attempt at discrediting Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who enjoys the support of both groups.

The BJP team said: “Timely action could have been taken, but the State government failed to assess and control the situation because of its vote-bank politics.” It said illegal migration was at the heart of the problem, as the Assam government neither bothered to prepare the National Register of Citizens nor identified the illegal migrants, especially Muslims from Bangladesh. It demanded that the border with Bangladesh be sealed.

On the other hand, the Muslim groups believe the Bodos are firmly behind the violence. All-Assam Muslim Students Union president Abdur Rohim Ahmed said: “It is a clear example of genocide as only non-Bodos in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) areas are being targeted by the Bodos armed with guns and traditional weapons. We are using the term genocide, because it is a sinister plan of Bodo groups to oust the minorities from the Bodo area and capture their property… Many people have fled their homes and taken shelter in far-off districts, leaving behind their property.”

The Bodo leaders were clear that attempts were being made to snatch what was rightfully theirs. Bodoland Territorial Council Deputy Chairman Kampa Borgoyri demanded that Muslims who have gone south to Dhubri district should not be allowed to return. “They should be settled there itself. If they return, it will lead to lots of problems,” he said, acknowledging that thousands have migrated.

Pramod Boro, president of the All-Bodo Students Union, said it was essential that the Dhubri-Kokrajhar and Chirang-Gossaigaon borders leading to the BTAD be sealed so that miscreants from other areas could not enter these four districts.

Mr. Boro alleged that a deliberate attempt was being made to blame the community for the attacks on Muslims. “There was nothing to prove our involvement in the first two attacks, in which two Muslims lost their lives on July 6, and two others were injured on July 19. And yet, we were maligned and attacked.” He was apprehensive that non-Bodo groups might have instigated the violence.