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Puja amid bandh and curfew
- Panel asks Ulfa to lift strike

Jorhat, Nov. 18: A ring of security with metal and hand-held detectors and intensified patrolling has been put in place in Upper Assam ahead of Chhath Puja tomorrow, which coincides with the 12-hour strike call by the Paresh Barua faction of Ulfa in five districts of the region.

People from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh celebrate Chhath generally, but of late, other communities have also started observing it. Chhath is the worship of the sun god for fulfiling one’s wishes and sustaining life on earth. It is observed over four days, of which two days are spent fasting.

The outfit has called the strike from 6am tomorrow against the killing of innocents by a joint team of army and police officials at a chapori (sandbar) near Majuli last week.

Since Hindi-speaking people have been targets of Ulfa in the past in Upper Assam, the state government yesterday sent out an alert to all districts to ensure the Chhath Puja celebrations passed off peacefully.

Deputy inspector-general of police (Eastern Range), P.C. Saikia, told The Telegraph today that special security measures were being taken to ensure the puja could be observed on the river banks tomorrow evening and Tuesday morning by the devotees peacefully.

Saikia said the district authorities were reviewing security arrangements and accordingly plans have been drawn up for the festival days. “But with the strike call given by Ulfa, the security aspect has been further tightened,” he said.

The official said all districts have been asked to ensure adequate deployment of security personnel at the ghats where the puja will be offered and to intensify patrolling in areas where concentration of Hindi-speaking population was more. Saikia said places where there was possibility of devotees turning up in huge numbers, metal doors and hand-held detectors will be used.

He said anti-sabotage units of police had sanitised puja venues to detect any explosive material possibly planted by the rebel cadres. “We have asked the organising committees to make sufficient lighting arrangements so that no area remains dark, allowing militants to take advantage of the situation,” Saikia said.

The police official said the organisers have been asked to allot volunteers all along the puja area and keep a close watch on the people and assist the police.

However, organisers are worried as the strike call is likely to hamper the observance of the festival. Rajkumar Chaudhary, secretary of Hindustani Nabayuvak Samaj, a socio-cultural organisation of the Hindi-speaking community in Upper Assam, said devotees, especially from outside, will face problems in reaching the ghats, as they come out only in the afternoon to buy prasad items (mostly fruits).

Chaudhary said if vehicles were not allowed to ply on the roads and the markets remain closed, then the devotees will not be able to buy their prasad.

“We and the Purbattar Hindustani Yuvak Samaj, an umbrella organisation of Hindi-speaking people in the Northeast, had appealed yesterday to Ulfa to withdraw the strike call, so that people can observe the puja without fear,” he said.

The organisation also appealed to the government to ensure foolproof security across the state to ensure the festival passes off peacefully by taking adequate steps to foil any attempt to target the devotees.