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Exodus rush to escape bullets

Jan. 8: Huddled in buses and on trains, Hindi-speaking migrant workers have begun fleeing Assam in batches for fear of being the next targets of Ulfa’s xenophobic campaign that has claimed 61 lives in four days.

Accompanied by his wife and two children, 40-year-old Sunil Sahani reached Tinsukia railway station at the crack of dawn today. “I have no idea which train I will catch but I am taking the first train to Bihar for sure. Our lives are no longer safe here,” said the resident of Dighalpam village, near the carnage zone in Doomdooma subdivision of Tinsukia district.

The Congress-led government admitted that migrant labourers were fleeing the Upper Assam districts — mainly Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar — but failed to stem the exodus with violence spreading to more areas.

Minister and government spokesman Himanta Biswa Sarma said the government had received information about 100 Hindi-speaking workers deserting the site of the Bogibeel rail-cum-road bridge project in Dibrugarh over the past two days.

Sources in Northeast Frontier Railway confirmed a rush of Hindi-speaking passengers in all down trains originating from stations across the state.

National Highway 37, which leads to Tinsukia railway station, was teeming with anxious people eager to catch the first train out of Assam.

Rajkumar Choudhury of the Hindustani Navayuvak Samaj, one of several organisations representing the Hindi-speaking people of Assam, said most of those looking for an opportunity to leave the state were “temporary” migrants. “They come to Assam at the onset of winter to finding work,” he said.

As the bloodshed and the exodus continued, the government claimed to have drawn up an “action plan” to provide security to brick kiln workers.

An official source said relief camps for migrant families were being opened across the violence-wracked districts. “All the relief camps are close to police stations, CRPF camps and bases of other security forces.”

The government also intends to relocate the scattered camps of brick kiln workers to designated locations.

In Dhemaji, the district administration roped in Assamese volunteers to form neighbourhood protection committees. The volunteers will be deployed in areas that have a sizeable population of Hindi-speaking people.

Railway minister Lalu Prasad, who visited Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts, approved of the plan to shift Hindi-speaking people to makeshift camps.

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