| A peace rally in Guwahati. Picture by UB Photos
Nov. 21: Assamese neighbours played police to help a Bihari family, and a Bihari woman played mother to an Assamese youth to save him from tormentors on a train.
But the mask of compassion slipped to reveal the other face of the job-row backlash when a 19-year-old Bihari girl was abused amid cries of “rape for rape” in the north-eastern state.
Stories of both help and hatred have been filtering in as rage-riven Assam limped back to normal after days of mayhem, a fallout of the retaliatory mob raids on Northeast-bound trains in Bihar. In one incident near Kokrajhar, Assamese residents took up the cause of a Bihari daily-wage earner and his two young sons who were seriously injured after an attack on Wednesday night.
“When a police team went to the village next morning on being informed about the incident, people of the locality identified the miscreants. We promptly arrested two of them,” a police officer said.
“They (the Bihari family) have been living here for as long as we can remember,” said a neighbour who identified himself only as Ratan. “There can be no question of harming them in retaliation to what has happened in Bihar.”
With saner heads rising over the madness that has claimed nearly 30 lives, and only a few “stray incidents” of arson and assault reported, Assam police today said there has been “significant improvement” over the last 24 hours.
In worst-hit Tinsukia town, curfew was lifted for three hours.
But the authorities took no chances. As a precautionary measure, the state government today clamped curfew in areas bordering Nagaland following intelligence reports that militants of the United Liberation Front of Asom might sneak in from the neighbouring state and strike at settlements with a concentration of Hindi-speaking people.
As the cry for peace reverberated across the state, school students and the elderly joined hands to march through the streets, denouncing the attacks on Biharis. All were unanimous that the demand for jobs was “justified” but not the vicious cycle of reprisal strikes which started after the alleged attack on a group of Biharis who had gone to Guwahati for a rail recruitment test.
Riyajul Islam, an aspiring doctor, would agree. The student of homeopathy, who survived possibly the worst moments of his life on November 12 when the fury was still building up, will never forget the razor-sharp reaction of a Bihari woman. “Me and four of my co-students were travelling by the Guwahati-Dadar Express when the train was stopped at an isolated place in Bihar. We heard cries of ‘kill, kill, don’t spare anyone’ and then a large number of people armed with lathis and sharp weapons boarded the compartment.”
The attackers started singling out the Assamese, “presuming that all with Mongoloid features must be from Assam”, Riyajul said. “As I waited for the worst, a Bihari woman on the upper berth told the attackers ‘he is my son, leave him’”.
Riyajul later learnt that the women lived in Shillong with her husband, an armyman. “There I was in the middle of Bihar, watching my fellow travellers being attacked while being saved from the marauding band by a compassionate lady,” he said. The attackers, however, took away the Rs 20,000 he was carrying. “On hindsight, it was a small price to pay in exchange for my life,” he added.
But not all have been so lucky.
For the lone Bihari family in Sokadhora, a village in Golaghat district, Assam has been their home for several years. The head of the family, a farmhand, had even given up plans to go back to his home state. It all changed on Wednesday night when a group of men swooped down on their house and dragged out his 19-year-old daughter.
As the family watched in horror, the men — most of them in their teens — carried the girl to an isolated spot nearby and abused her. Cries of “rape for rape” rose as the gang set out to “avenge” the assault on Assamese train passengers in Bihar. “Her cries of help went unanswered. We could do nothing as the boys brandished knives and ordered us to stay inside,” the Bihari labourer said.
It was only after the youths left that the family members mustered courage to bring back the girl.