The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Backlash bonfires in migrant pockets

Nov. 19: Stoked by militant guns, the backlash that began as a clamour for jobs spiralled out of control in pockets of Assam housing migrants, leaving over 20 people dead since Tuesday night.

The army has been deployed and indefinite curfew clamped in the commercial town of Tinsukia, 480 km from Guwahati, which has a large number of Biharis. Night curfew has been imposed in Duliajan, the oil town in Upper Assam.

As the flames leapt up, the Centre lined up behind the Congress-ruled Assam government, applauding the state’s efforts to tackle the crisis and promising help if needed. The governors of Bihar and Assam, too, pitched in, issuing a joint appeal for peace.

In the worst-ever clashes between people from the two states, Biharis were being targeted in several places in Assam in reprisal attacks after a railway recruitment test blockade in Guwahati last week led to a series of mob raids on trains passing through Bihar.

“Whatever happened in Bihar is condemnable and what is happening in Assam is equally condemnable,” chief minister Tarun Gogoi said after flagging off a peace rally in Guwahati. Assam has sent a fact-finding team to Bihar.

The bustling Tinsukia bore the brunt of the attacks which reduced it to a ghost town. As many as 12 people — all Biharis, barring one — died in Tinsukia and its twin town Dibrugarh.

Three members, including a child, of a farm hand’s family were killed by a mob that besieged his house last night. The dead have been identified as Binda Shah (32), his wife Sati Devi (28) and their three-year-old daughter Pinky.

Police said the Shah family had been living in the area for several years, earning its livelihood by working in the paddy fields. Neighbours could not come to the aid of Shah as the assailants kept “shouting not to come out of our houses. What can we do'” asked an Assamese farmer.

In the neighbouring Dibrugarh district, six members of a family were killed. A group attacked the house of Uma Kant Tiwari, killing his wife Geeta (38), sons Brijesh (16) and Anupama (11), daughter Rumar (13), nephew Pawan (11) and niece Deepa (9). Uma Kant was able to save himself by hiding in a corner of the house, which was later set on fire.

In Tinsukia, one person died in police firing after a mob refused to disperse and turned its ire on two officers.

Suspected militants poured oil into the fire. In Lower Assam’s Bongaigaon, masked motorcycle-borne gunmen today sprayed bullets on a group of people at Gangquarters — named after the quarters of railway gangmen. Four were killed, three have been identified as Bhanumati Choudhury (50), Amina Khatun (40) and Renu (30).

Last night, four people — two of them from Bihar — were killed by Ulfa in Dhubri, bordering Bengal. Late tonight, unconfirmed reports said suspected Ulfa militants opened fired on Hindi-speaking people in Nalbari, killing three. After the train attacks, Ulfa had asked Biharis to leave.

In Patna, Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi sent a letter to Gogoi seeking steps against those committing atrocities on Biharis.


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