Cooch Behar, Nov. 23: Noor Islam, 50, and his teenaged son, Amirul, darted worried glances as they waited for the bus to start for Muzaffarpur in Bihar. They were on the run from the anti-Bihari backlash in Assam and the tension was palpable.
Waiting alongside them was Babu Hossain, an Assamese youth in his thirties, who had put his life on line to protect Noor, Amirul and 11 other Biharis from the attackers.
“I will breathe easy once these people board their bus safely, not before that. I will also have to return to Kokrajhar,” Hossain said.
After sheltering the Bihari families in his Shantinagar home in Assam’s Kokrajhar district for the past few days, he sneaked them out last night and escorted them here. He stayed put till 5 in the evening when the bus carrying his friends left.
Apart from Hossain’s group, about 100 Biharis were waiting at the North Bengal State Transport Corporation bus terminus to travel to Bihar. They had fled from Sonitpur, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Guwahati and other places in Assam, with only their lives and little else.
Rajeswar Giri, 40, had bought a handcart for Rs 1,600 to earn a living by transporting goods in Dhemaji. “I had to sell off the cart for Rs 200 and I am returning to Motihari,” said Giri.
Noor, who makes mattresses and quilts for a living, said he and Amirul had left for Shantinagar as they do each year and put up in a rented room there. “We and people belonging to the same profession work in Assam each year and return to our homes once winter is over. We could not do so this year,” he lamented.
“These people and several other Biharis had rented rooms in my house and in the locality. After November 17, some of the locals began threatening them. I told those staying in my house that I will provide them all the protection they needed, the others took shelter in my house the very next day,” Hossain said.
As the situation worsened with several Biharis being killed, he did not allow the people under his protection to go out his house. “Last night I brought them here by bus under cover of darkness,” Hossain said.
“On November 19, some Assamese youths came to my shop and threatened to burn it down if I did not leave. I ran away and took shelter along with my daughter, Purnilata, in Babu Hossain’s house, where I knew Noor was staying as a tenant. Hossain told me that I had nothing to fear and at the first opportunity, he would help us get to Bengal,” said Sushil Yadav, who sold goods made of lac in Shantinagar.
“I have not done this to make a name for myself. I have been seeing these people since my childhood, they come each year and stay in my house and I had got to like them all. I thought that it was my responsibility to see that no harm came to them from senseless people,” a self-effacing Hossain said, after bidding his friends a safe journey.