Anxiety, panic still grip Assam

Anxiety, panic still grip Assam

The calm at the West Bengal-Assam border belied the tension that has gripped the North-Eastern state in the last few days.

The only sign that something was wrong was the kilometre-long line of trucks waiting at the border to enter Assam.

Although the situation seemed to have improved slightly on Saturday, the mood was one of anxiety and panic, as people continued to cross over from Assam to Bengal to escape attacks.

The ground situation,which took a violent turn after the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit), or the NDFB(S), attacked villages of non-Bodo tribals on December 23 in the Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, soon became one of more bloodshed as the tribals retaliated in Sonitpur, along the Arunachal Pradesh border. 

The toll from the clashes has risen to 83, with sporadic attacks on both sides continuing in some parts of Kokrajhar and Chirang.

The clashes have forced thousands to leave their homes for nearby refugee camps set up by the Bengal government.

Four days after the attacks, non-Bodo tribals—mostly Christians and Bengali Muslims—still seemed worried for their life and property. The situation tensed further on Saturday when a number of tribal organisations called for a 36-hour strike in both Assam and West Bengal from Saturday morning.

The strike, however, did not seem affect the Bodo-dominated Kokrajhar district, which is at the heart of the Bodoland Territorial Area District, an autonomous region administered by the Bodoland Territorial Council. Most shops remained open in Kokrajhar town after the curfew was lifted at 7 am. In place since Wednesday, the curfew was reinstated at 7 pm.

The atmosphere of tension gave the town a deserted look.  The scene was similar even in Chirang district, where refugee camps have been set up in schools and health centres along the state highway leading to Guwahati, just like in Kokrajhar.

In both districts, while refugees complained against the state administration for the poor condition at the camps, most hoped, with the Army marching in, that they would be able to return home soon.

Security forces have been running intense operations against the hardline NDFB(S) militants across Kokrajhar, Chirang and Sonitpur. However, non-Bodo tribals do not seem to have found the courage to return to their villages despite the significant armed police and Army presence. Most refugee camps in Kokrajhar and Chirang are already filled to the brim, with more people arriving by the hour.

Senior officials in Assam, however, claimed that the situation had improved a lot since Friday due to the presence of the security forces. The handful of people in Kokrajhar and Chirang's non-Bodo villages, most of them able-bodied men, said they have been preparing bows, arrows and other traditional weapons.

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