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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Assam riots toll rises to 32; more than 70,000 flee homes

Assam riots toll rises to 32; more than 70,000 flee homes

With four rioters who defied curfew orders killed in police firing on Tuesday and nine more bodies recovered, the death toll in the five-day-old Bodo-Muslim violence in lower Assam districts rose to 32.
Shoot-at-sight orders remained in effect for the second day in Lower Assam, and Kokrajhar town, an important trade hub, looked deserted. The situation was no different in Chirang's district headquarter, Kajalgaon.

Since Friday, when the orgy of violence began, more than 70,000 people have fled their homes, with at least 60 villages belonging to both Bodos and Muslims in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts reduced to cinders. The spiraling violence led to the cancellation of 11 trains that left around 20,000 passengers stranded in different places in the state.

In relief camps, overcast skies, billowing smoke, and pale faces of hundreds of people huddled in groups spoke of the scale of the human tragedy, inviting comparisons with the last time such killings had occurred, in 2008, when 60 people were butchered and more than one lakh displaced in the violence between rogue elements among Bodos and Muslims. Late Tuesday, inspector-general of police S N Singh confirmed 32 dead but other sources warned the toll could be higher and many wounded by either sickle or knife attacks or bullets could die in hospitals.

Tales of suffering are no less poignant from members of the Bodo community. Durga Basumatary of Malgaon in Kokrajhar ran for safety leaving behind her home and property, all of which is now gutted. She has no one to turn to for help and is disconnected with her family. Her village, Malgaon in Kokrajhar, was set afire by miscreants on Tuesday morning. About 50 houses were destroyed. Durga gasps for breath as she explains what she went through.

"We ran for our lives when our village was set ablaze. I didn't know where I was going when I left my village. My husband went in another direction," Durga wept.

 The Bodos no longer see any joy in their upcoming post-harvest Nangalkrah celebration with their rice cultivation season ruined by the turmoil.

In Kokrajhar, more than 25 villages belonging to both Bodos  have been burnt down since Monday night. Tensions ran high in Sishubari of Chirang district till on Tuesday when miscreants armed with firearms and sharp weapons reached the banks of Huthoti river, which divides the Bodo and Muslim villages. A face-off was averted after both sides assured that they won't enter each other's villages.

Aman fear of attacks, people continued to rush to 116 relief camps in Chirang and Kokrajhar district on Tuesday. People also rushed out of Bodoland Territorial Council for safety. About 600 Bodos have taken shelter in Kajalgaon relief camps.

As the violence continued, saner voices appealed for peace. "We've had enough bloodshed. We want peace among different communities," said Sopra Mushahary of Kokrajhar. ABSU Chirang district president, Shah Toppu Murmu, said, "We want an end to this violence as it helps no one."