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Curfew in Darrang villages after attack

Protesters gherao Kalaigaon police station in Darrang district on Thursday demanding arrest of the attackers. Picture by UB Photos

Mangaldoi, Feb. 27: An indefinite curfew was imposed at Kalaigaon in Assam’s Darrang district at noon after a group of villagers patrolling the area to prevent cow theft assaulted 13 people in the wee hours today.

Around 3am, the villagers stopped a van, in which the victims were travelling, at Udmari on the Rangmari-Kalaigaon road and beat them up with sticks, suspecting them to be cow thieves.

Five of the critically injured were referred to the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital.

“We were returning from a prayer meet when they stopped our vehicle and beat us up. We are not thieves,” a middle-aged man undergoing treatment at Mangaldoi civil hospital told this correspondent. Incidents of cow theft are frequently reported in the area and villagers take turns to keep vigil at night.

The situation, however, took a turn for the worse around 7am after rumours of the incident spread thick and fast, prompting an irate mob to set the van and a motorcycle parked nearby on fire.

This irked residents of the nearby Shyamtila area from where the 13 people hail. They came in groups and gheraoed Kalaigaon police station, demanding immediate arrest of the attackers while asserting that the assaulted persons were not thieves. They were returning home after attending a prayer meet in the Outala-Bechimari area.

Shyamtila is inhabited primarily by people of the minority community. It is 10km from Udmari, which is 18km from here and 90km from Guwahati.

Police later picked up 13 people from Udmari and the district administration promulgated Section 144 CrPC in the district and a curfew in 25 villages of Kalaigaon.

“Curfew has been imposed in 25 sensitive villages of Kalaigaon after the situation in the area became tense. The situation as of now is under control. If the situation improves, curfew will be lifted,” Darrang deputy commissioner M.S. Manivannan told this correspondent.

Home commissioner G.D. Tripathi said the government was “closely monitoring” the situation. “We are not taking any chances and have deployed additional policemen to prevent any untoward incident in the area,” Darrang superintendent of police G.V. Sivaprasad said.

Members of the Darrang district committee of the All Assam Minorities Students’ Union blocked National Highway 52 in front of Rajiv Bhawan here for about an hour this evening in protest against the attack.

The Darrang district administration has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident at Kalaigaon. Additional district magistrate Bijoya Choudhury will conduct the probe.

The police and administration have been battling strikes, blockades and demonstrations since 10 people were killed in the Behali forest area of neighbouring Sonitpur district on January 29.

Monday’s self-immolation by KMSS activist Pranab Boro in Guwahati and subsequent strikes and protests to thwart Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s two-day visit to the state that concluded yesterday, has left the administration hard-pressed, official sources said.