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Shock & fear after carnage

Subungsha Basumatary rummages through the ashes of his shop in Balajan market on Saturday. 
Picture by Umanand Jaiswal

Balajan (Kokrajhar), Aug. 6: Subungsha Basumatary rummaged through the ashes of his stationery shop, ostensibly trying to pick up the pieces of a life which took a hard knock in yesterday's terror attack.

"The shop was my bank. One of my daughters is in hostel and the other stays with me. I have to spend Rs 10,000 on their studies. Where will I go now? I have lost around Rs 12 lakh. My insurance cover has also lapsed. I am hoping the administration will take care of people like me," he said, putting up a brave front.

Basumatary's was one of the eight shops gutted in the arson and grenade attack by assailants who had yesterday opened fire at Balajan Tiniali weekly market in Assam's Kokrajhar district, killing 14 civilians. Yesterday's toll of 13 went up after one of the 18 injured died today.

After the firing, the suspected militants had set one of the shops on fire and lobbed a grenade.

A shoe shop owner broke down before local MLA and cabinet minister Pramila Rani Brahma while seeking help.

"I have small kids to feed," he said.

Brahma assured the shopkeepers that they would be adequately compensated after assessment but first "we will pay ex gratia" to the families of the victims.

By evening, the kin of the deceased received cheques for Rs 5 lakh each and the injured got cheques for Rs 50,000 and an equal amount in cash each at the Bodoland Guest House in Kokrajhar town, 10km from Balajan.

Amid the stream of visitors to the market through a consistent drizzle, the funeral procession of 65-year-old Tapan Chakraborty, who was caught in yesterday's crossfire between the attackers and security forces, quietly made its way to the crematorium, 1km from the market, this afternoon.

His sons Gopal and Raju said they were too shocked to react. Gopal, when prodded, said their father was shot in the chest when he was on his way to fetch "my brother Raju's daughter Trishna" from the lower primary school. Their house is close to the market. "It is very tragic. I was not well. He had just taken a few steps when he was hit. Such incident should not happen again," the 40-year-old mechanic said. He said his father was born at Bahalpur, 30km from Balajan.

The administration contacted the Chakrabortys at the crematorium and urged them to collect a cheque for Rs 5 lakh from Bodoland Guest House.

Thirteen of the deceased were from Kokrajhar and one was from neighbouring Dhubri district.

They have been identified as: Prabila Brahma, Tiken Hazowary (he was critically injured and died today), Donda Basumatary, Moniram Basumatary, Salam Mondol, Tapan Chakraborty, Parmeswar Nath, Magar Ali, Pachi Nath, Nibaran Moshahary, Suren Moshahary, Daorao Basumatary, Dwithun Narzary and Hasan Ali Sheikh (Dhubri).

One of the attackers, identified as Monjoy Islari, a purportedly self-styled NDFB (S) commanding officer hailing from Kokrajhar district, was killed yesterday by security forces. His identity has, however, come under the scanner with his parents saying that the body was not of their son. Their stand contradicts the statement of senior state cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma who said in Guwahati that the militant's body had been identified by his parents.

A shaken Balajan is demanding a permanent security set-up. "There is lot of fear and apprehension after what has happened. Had there been security as seen till the Assembly elections, these attackers would have thought twice before carrying out the audacious attack. We want a permanent police post here," said Chakra Nath, a vegetable vendor who had a close shave during yesterday's carnage.

The weekly market, located 10km north of Kokrajhar and 210km west of Guwahati, draws over 20,000 footfalls on Tuesdays and Fridays and 3,000 on other days. The vendors, who sell locally produced goods and those brought from Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar in Bengal, are mostly Bodos, Adivasis, Rajbongshis, Biharis, Bengalis and Nepalis.

"We have been doing business here for years but have not seen anything like this before. The attackers were here for over 30 minutes. The security personnel came after 45 minutes," said Phanikant Nath, a paan vendor. The administration, however, said the police arrived within 10 minutes.

There is confusion over the number and identity of attackers as well. While eyewitnesses put the number between three and five, the administration and the army put it at two.

Again, while some locals said at least one attacker, who was clad in kurta and shorts, had his face covered with a black cloth and spoke in Hindi, appeared to be non-local, others said the attackers were from the NDFB (S), the version offered by the administration and the army.

Token Basumatary, a shopkeeper, talking about the Hindi-speaking attacker said, "He appeared to be a non-local. There is doubt over whether the person gunned down by security personnel was the one involved in the attack."

Minister Brahma said, "It was the NDFB (S). We have also been part of movements but these people have no agenda. They are dacoits."

Rajya Sabha MP Biswajit Daimari also went by the administration's version.

Deepak Basumatary, a local, felt only a CBI inquiry could help bring out the truth given the conflicting and confusing versions on the identity and number of attackers.

The NIA, which is already probing eight cases against the NDFB (Songbijit), started its probe today. The NIA, had however not registered a case yet in connection with the Balajan attack.

A steady stream of VIP visitors descended on Balajan today.

Among the VIPs was a Congress team, led by PCC president Ripun Bora and leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia. Rakibul Hussain and Rupjyoti Kurmi were also part of the team. The members visited the victims and launched a scathing attack on BJP-ruled Delhi and Dispur. "It seems to be a security lapse. The governments should provide adequate security and compensation of Rs 7 lakh to the kin of the deceased," said Saikia.

BJP legislators Bhabesh Kalita and Narayan Deka also turned up to take stock of the situation. Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who was scheduled to visit today, will arrive here tomorrow.

Balajan is not complaining but hopes that the VIP visits will be supplemented by concrete action on the ground.


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