Victims of Assam ethnic clashes crave for peace

October 10th, 2008 - 5:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Udalguri (Assam), Oct 10 (IANS) Thousands of people hit by the ethnic clashes in Assam, which have claimed at least 55 lives, are now craving for peace and willing to return to their homes, setting aside the bitter animosity of the past few days.”We were almost ruined for life after our village was torched during the violence, but still we want to go back to our homes,” said Matha Basumatary, a mother of three young children, as tears welled up in her eyes.

Matha is among nearly 150,000 people who were displaced in last week’s ethnic clashes involving tribal Bodos and non-Bodos in northern Assam’s Udalguri and Darrang districts.

At least 55 people were killed, 25 of them in police firing, and more than 100 injured in violent clashes between the Bodos and non-Bodos, most of them migrant Muslim settlers from Bangladesh.

“We want to forget the past and cohabit with other communities like we did for decades together,” said Muslimuddin Ahmed, an elderly community leader.

Villagers from both the Bodo and minority Muslim communities are now sheltered in about 80 relief camps set up by the government after three days of violence last week that affected nearly 200 villages.

“Common people like us do not know for sure why the violence broke out. For us, getting two square meals a day has always been a problem and we do not want violence or communal discord to disturb our day to day life,” said Moni Boro, a Bodo community elder.

In some of the camps, both Bodos and non-Bodos are residing together - a clear indication that the average villager was not involved or did not approve of the violence.

“We are sorry for our Bodo brothers whose houses were set ablaze, and even some of my Bodo friends consoled us for the loss we suffered in the violence,” Rahim Ahmed, a peasant, said at one of the relief camps.

But there is a sense of insecurity haunting the people of both communities.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS: “The situation is fast returning to normal although we know there is tension and people are still faced with a sense of insecurity. We are now working on an action plan as to how we could instil confidence among people by providing adequate security cover.

“We are taking a lot of confidence building measures to heal the wounds.” The chief minister Friday visited relief camps in Udalguri district and held a security review meeting.

“We will be deploying security forces in vulnerable areas, besides some permanent pickets in certain pockets so that people are able to return to their homes soon,” Gogoi said.

“The government would provide free ration for a month to all the affected people.”

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