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Busloads drive out of Assam

Guwahati, Nov. 21: Groups of panic-stricken Biharis and Hindi-speaking residents of Upper Assam today headed for Bihar and Bengal in hired buses as the fear of persecution continued to haunt them despite violence abating in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts.

College student Hardayal, who had to persuade his family to shift “for the time being”, said a bus journey was presumably the safest way out of the state. “A bus seems to be the safest mode of transport in view of reports that trains passing through some places in Assam have been stopped and Bihari people targeted,” he said.

However, some opted for train journeys despite the perceived risk. Trader Kapil Dev Poddar, who hails from Khagaria in Bihar and stays in the Beltola area of Guwahati, was among the last to board a train out of the city.

Before leaving along with four other Hindi-speaking persons, Poddar said he would return “after the madness dies down”.

On whether he had been attacked in the past few days, the trader said: “Our landlord, neighbours and the police have been protecting us from miscreants. But how long can they continue their vigil' Other people in our campus left the day after the bandh. We stayed put, but later thought it would be better if we did the same.”

Railway officials in Guwahati admitted that a few Biharis had left the city, but said it could not be described as an exodus.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said Biharis leaving Assam was a “temporary” phenomenon. “Assam witnessed such an exodus of people during unrest on previous occasions. But the people always come back. The government is taking steps to defuse tension and I am sure the people who have left or are leaving will return soon.”

In Upper Assam, the situation appeared to be normal after several days.

But for those like Lalna Sahu, the nightmare is still fresh. “It is more painful when people close to you suddenly turn foes,” he said.

Sahu, 45, is a Hindi-speaking labourer based at Hilaguri Chapori in Tinsukia district and one of the victims of the backlash over the attacks on rail passengers in Bihar. Biding time at a relief camp in Tinsukia district, he recalled how he came to Assam as a child with his uncle. “I speak Assamese fluently and have made Assam my home. My Assamese neighbours are my brothers and sisters,” he said.

On Wednesday, the same Assamese neighbours, however, set Sahu’s house ablaze along with 14 other huts belonging to Hindi-speaking people. “My friends have turned foes. I will take time to come out of this,” he said.

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