There are no checkpoints on the Bilasipara-Karegaon Road that leads from Kokrajhar town to Badgaon, and further into Dhubri district.
But the road, popularly known as BK Road, is serving these days as an unannounced border between Bodos and Muslims, who are too scared to return to the township despite the presence in large numbers of security personnel and the visit of a steady stream of VIPs ever since violence broke out about 10 days ago.
It was here on this road that in retaliation for the firing on two student leaders — Mohibul Islam of the All-Bodoland Minority Student’s Union (ABMSU) and Abdul Siddique Sheikh of the All-Assam Minority Students’ Union — four former Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) workers were killed a day later, on July 20. These killings triggered a spate of attacks and counter-attacks across Kokrajhar, Chirang and Baksa districts in the Bodoland Territorial Administered Districts (BTAD), as also Dhubri district, which is outside the cluster.
The spot where motorcycles of the former BLT workers were burnt remains a stark reminder of an incident that could well have been prevented. “The police personnel to whom the youth ‘surrendered’ after they were surrounded by the locals refused to take them out safely, and indeed handed them back to the public for delivering justice,” said social worker Abdul Ali Mondal.
Mr. Mondal, whose family owns several pieces of property in the area, said that after the incident, Bodos launched attacks, the likes of which had not been seen for the past 20 years. “The result has been the exodus of nearly 1.20 lakh people from the area to Dhubri district, outside the Bodo-administered area.”
However, sporadic violence and firing have always been commonplace in the area.
Founder president and senior adviser of the ABMSU Moinul Haq said that soon after the attack on his brother Mohibul, he too survived an attempt on life when he was stopped while returning from hospital by some Bodos, including some in police uniform. “It was my good fortune that I managed to call a senior police officer who, on seeing the missed call [on his cellphone], immediately called back and directed some police personnel, who were part of the elimination squad, to let me go.”
Sitting in his office at Bodgaon, barely a couple of km from where the former BLT workers were attacked, Mr. Haq said: “The situation in the area is very bad.” But “this is not new; it has been like this since 1987 when the Bodos started demanding a separate Bodoland and began attacking non-Bodos. The fact is that the area even now has 25 per cent Bodo population and 75 per cent non-Bodos, including about 25 per cent Muslims.”
“This is the fifth attack on Muslims … The Bodo movement is primarily aimed at driving away Muslims and other non-Bodos. The worst part is that when Muslims resist, the police also come to the aid of Bodos and attack and shoot them after branding them armed rioters and Bangladeshis. However, this is completely a local issue and has got nothing to do with Bangladesh,” he insisted.
Mr. Haq noted that Muslims suffered a trust deficit when it came to the security forces, as some surrendered BLT workers were now part of the Black Panther commando force that was formed in 2003 or were posted as personal security officers of various Bodo leaders. “Many of them act like ‘ghatak’ (killers), performing as soldiers by day and militia at night.”
Claiming that Muslims had so far been non-violent, Mr. Haq cautioned that if the government did not act soon to disarm all the militia, a situation could arise in which the minority community might resort to use of firearms. “It is better to do something in the forests than to become a nomad,” he quipped, referring to the use of guerrilla warfare techniques.
The State government, he said, had also failed the community. “They have not done anything for us. Their Ministers visited us, but no aid has been forthcoming. We have been demanding that a security camp be set up around the Bodo-dominated stretch of the BK Road to allow safe passage to Muslims to Kokrajhar town, but nothing has been done yet.”
Demanding that President’s Rule be imposed on the State for restoration of law and order and peace, Mr. Haq said a Muslim delegation met Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Thursday and urged him to put in place a mechanism for exchange of land between Muslims and Bodos. “We want both communities rehabilitated. But it can now be done in a way so that there is a minimum confrontation between them.”
The ABMSU will raise the same demand before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visits the strife-torn areas on Saturday.