The desire to return to their villages is strong, but the fear of a recurrence of violence stalks the camp inmates

Fifty-year-old Noor Islam, along with his wife and three children, left the Matibag J B School refugee camp in Assam’s Dhubri district on Friday afternoon, seven weeks after he fled Garjan-II village in Kokrajhar district to escape the ethnic violence there. He plans to sneak back into his village, about 70 km from the camp, only to spend a short while there to ascertain whether others from the village who have taken shelter in camps can return.

His nephew, Kajal Hossain (29), has returned to the camp after spending five days in his village and he is not sure that his family and others in the camp can return there without risking their lives. “It was the second spell of violence on August 27 which forced us to flee again. We heard gun-shots in the night, ran for our lives and had no option but to return to the camp,” Mr. Hossain says.

People like Mr. Islam and Mr. Hossain who are trying to pick up the pieces of a life shattered by ethnic clashes say the single factor that prevents their return is the fear of bullets. “It took me ten years to build my house which was razed to the ground in ten minutes. The second time I went home I could only find a brass plate. I need to start my life again from scratch,” Mr. Hossain says.

P.C. Saloi, Superintendent of Police, Dhubri, said that while there had been cases of people returning to their homes, nearly 1.5 lakh refugees still remained sheltered in 133 refugee camps in the district. Over 2 lakh people had taken shelter in the district when the ethnic clashes started. A majority of them are residents of Kokrajhar district.

Signs of a gradual but guarded retreat are evident in other districts that have been affected by the riots.

“In the morning people from refugee camps go to their fields to work and return to the camps in the evening,” said Nitul Gogoi, Superintendent of Police, Bongaigaon.

The delegation comprising Congress legislators Bhupen Bora and Rana Goswami, along with party MP Ranee Narah, visited Dhubri district and tried to persuade local leaders from different communities to facilitate the return of refugees to their villages.

The desire to return to their villages is strong but the fear of a recurrence of violence stalks the camp inmates.

“We want the administration to take us to back to our village, at least once. We do not know what happened to our homes after we fled,” says 35-year-old Wahidul Islam. He claims that all documents testifying to the identity of his family were left behind. “It is as if we are stripped of not just our identity but also of our past,” he laments.

All they are asking for is to be able to return without the fear of being attacked.

Six hundred and ten people are packed into four classrooms of Gauripur Adarsh Prathamik Vidyalaya in Dhubri district that has been converted into a refugee camp. They had fled their homes in villages under the Serfangudi police station in Kokrajhar district when the violence broke out last month. They say that they have not slept for days.

“It is too crowded in there; not even space to lie down without brushing against the person by your side. Children do not need much space but even they cannot have a good night’s sleep. It is far too cramped,” they say.