Huts burn at Barmanpara village in Kokrajhar on Tuesday. Picture by UB Photos
Kokrajhar/Guwahati, July 24: Security forces gunned down five rioters and seven more bodies were recovered in Kokrajhar district today, taking the death toll to 32.
Besides, sources in the chief minister’s office said, 21 were injured, 11 were reported missing and 1.7 lakh panic-stricken people were lodged in 121 relief camps.
Shoot-at-sight orders were also clamped in the riot-torn Bodo belt and adjoining Dhubri district.
This is the first instance of deaths in firing by security forces since violence flared up in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) on Friday night. Two persons were killed at Sapkata, about 40km from Kokrajhar town, and one each at Srirampur and Simultapur, on the Assam-West Bengal border and about 60km from the town, all in Gossaigaon subdivision. The eight bodies were recovered from three different places in the district.
The situation in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri districts continued to be tense with fresh reports of arson. Six persons were injured at Diyabari village in Dhubri district when a mob torched abandoned houses. Sources said, army is likely to launch operations by tomorrow.
Curfew will be relaxed in Kokrajhar district from 8am till noon tomorrow.
Hundreds of minority people from Duramari in Kokrajhar subdivision, about 15km from the district headquarters, were escorted to safer places along the Kokrajhar-Dhubri border. Hundreds of Bodos from Bilasipara and Gauripur in Dhubri district were brought to Kokrajhar town. Many people are still stranded in Dhubri district.
Over 70,000 people have been put up in 49 relief camps in the three districts. The district administration said necessary arrangements had been made in the camps.
The trigger for the situation was the July 20 fatal attack on four motorbike-borne persons at Joypur Namapara under Kokrajhar police station.
In an apparent retaliatory action, one person was killed and five were injured at Duramari, leading to further violence in the district.
Five days and 29 deaths later, Kokrajhar administration says it does not have sufficient security personnel to tackle the situation. “We are helpless as we do not have enough security personnel but we are trying our best to provide security,” Kokrajhar deputy commissioner Donald Gilfellon said.
The sub-divisional police officer of Bijni in Chirang district, Narayan Das, resigned this evening, citing lack of support and security forces to tackle the violence.
Both Delhi and Dispur claimed that forces were being moved in. Assam director-general of police J.N. Choudhury, who visited Kokrajhar today, said 50 companies had been deployed in the three violence-torn districts. “Security is not an issue. If more security is needed, it will be provided. The administration is serious about tackling the situation and strict action will be taken against the culprits,” he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi called chief minister Tarun Gogoi today to enquire about the situation. Gogoi also talked to home minister P. Chidambaram, defence minister A.K. Antony and secretaries of the two ministries. They assured him of all possible help, the chief minister’s office said.
Gogoi said he would visit the affected areas in the next few days. Ministers and other VIPs who visited the affected areas faced a tough time with roads blockades at various places.
Assam parliamentary affairs minister Nilamani Sen Deka, who was going to Kokrajhar, was among those obstructed at Bortola Chowk on NH 31 this afternoon and forced to take a detour to the relief camps on Bongaigaon-Chirang border.
“Around 3,000 protesters belonging to the minority community stopped us and showed us rows of burning houses. They did not misbehave but only wanted us to visit the nearby relief camps to see what was happening. We interacted with inmates of three camps, each housing over a 1,000 people, and assured them of security and food at the earliest. But the situation is tense,” Deka told The Telegraph.
Sources said the inmates blamed the local administration for their plight. They said Bodos and Muslims were targeted wherever they were in a minority. “There has been a massive security lapse. It is for the powers that be to find out what is happening,” one of them said.
Deka, who was accompanied by Assam PCC secretary Pradyut Bhuyan, was lucky to reach Kokrajhar by 7pm. Many others remained stranded or were turned away by protesters who had put up blockades at several places in the BTAD.
Revenue minister Prithibi Majhi and Assam border areas development minister Siddique Ahmed also visited the affected areas on the instructions of Gogoi, who met a delegation of the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) and Assam PCC office-bearers this evening.
AAMSU president Abdur Rahim Ahmed urged Gogoi to take immediate steps to stop the unrest and punish the guilty. “We apprised him on how peace meetings and violence were continuing simultaneously. This needs to stop,” he added.
Rakibul Hussain, Nazrul Islam and Chandan Brahma were the other ministers who visited violence-hit areas and were briefed by officials. Hussain said 20,000 violence-affected people from the BTAD were taking shelter in Dhubri district.
PCC secretary Kalyan Gogoi said Gogoi, in a meeting at his residence this evening, had asked his ministers, parliamentary secretaries and Assam PCC office-bearers to visit their respective affected areas to help restore normalcy.
Several trains, both to and from Assam, stranded at various stations yesterday and today have been “short terminated” with their onward journeys cancelled from that point, an NFR statement stated this evening.
The railways cancelled 11 inter-state trains and regulated 15 others this evening. It identified a 54km stretch between Srirampur and Salakati railway stations as most vulnerable and sought adequate security.
Railway minister Mukul Roy apprised Chidambaram and Gogoi of the difficulties being faced by the railways in ensuring safe and smooth movement of trains to and from Assam.
Former chief minister and AGP president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today demanded the Centre’s intervention in tackling law and order in the BTAD areas.
“The Tarun Gogoi government had prior information about the possibility of such a situation. But it did not act on the information, leading to the present scenario. The chief minister, who holds the home portfolio and heads the Unified Command structure, has totally failed to tackle the situation,” Mahanta said.
A 15-member AGP team will leave for Kokrajhar on Thursday to take stock of the situation, he added.
The Bodo People’s Front (BPF), which is in power in the BTC and is an ally in the Congress-ruled coalition at Dispur, and the All Bodo Students’ Union (Absu) demanded more forces in the Bodo belt as fresh sporadic violence was reported from the area.