Bengali Muslims are forced to live in constant fear of attack

Even as Bodos and non-Bodo tribals clash in Assam over ethnic differences, Bengali Muslims of the state, who have always been at the receiving end of violence, feel concerned. Fear and tension lurk villages of the Bengali Muslims .

For years, the Bengali Muslims, who form around 24 per cent of the region’s population, have lived in fear of attacks by other ethnic groups. Since December 24, when clashes started in the North-Eastern state, they are on the edge.

The atmosphere of fear reminds them of the past attacks they have faced, the most recent one being right after Lok Sabha elections in May.

Rafikul Islam, president of the All Bodo Minority Students' Union (ABMSU), the representative body of Muslims in the region, said when attacks on May 2 started from Narayanguri village, along the river Beki, in the middle of Manas Tiger Reserve, where Bodo militants opened fire, “they did not even spare two-year-old babies.

Thirty-eight people, including women, children and elderly, were gunned down. The militants were aided by forest guards, who are all ethnic Assamese,” he said. The toll in the post-poll riots stood at 57 Bengali Muslims.

While six of the forest guards were later arrested and facing departmental inquiry, the situation reveals the deep ethnic divides that lie within.

Ibrahim Ali, district president of the ABMSU, however, is not willing to tag their attackers as militants of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

“We don’t call them NDFB cadres. They are all former members of Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT). Even forest guards are hands in glove with them. They want to mark us illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though we’ve been living here since the 1930s,” he said.

Ali was referring to the BLT, the now defunct armed wing of Bodo People’s Front (BPF), which spearheaded the movement for a separate Bodoland carved out of Assam.
After the Bodoland Peace Accord in 2003, they settled for Bodoland Territorial Area District, an autonomous administrative region across four districts.

Ali alleged that Hagrama Moilary, chief of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC), is connected to NDFB’s Sangbijit faction and is the man behind such attacks.

“The BTC polls are to take place in two months. These recent attacks could be to terrorise non-Bodos into submission so they don’t dare to vote for anybody else. Moilary and other BPF leaders fear that, like in the Lok Sabha polls, the Bengali Muslims and Adivasis will vote a non-Bodo to power in the BTC,” Ali said.

“There could be an attack anytime. The government doesn’t care. Security and safety are our main concerns.”

Accustomed to fear

Md Amjad Ali, principal of a primary school at Narsinghbari close to Sonitpur, echoed Ali’s concerns.

“The Bengali Muslims like us have learnt to live in fear. The Congress government has failed to give us security. We’ve no expectations from the BJP either. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his pre-poll speech that Bengali Muslims who came before 1951 wouldnot be disturbed, as they are valid citizens of India. But hundreds of us continue to be disenfranchised despite having valid documents,” he said.

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