Assam town remembers its dead on I-Day (Lead)

August 14th, 2008 - 12:13 pm ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Dhemaji (Assam), Aug 14 (IANS) The police band relentlessly rehearsed the national anthem for Independence Day in the drizzle, but paranoia reigned amongst the people — for most Aug 15 is a reminder of the day four years ago when a powerful blast killed 12 people minutes before the flag was unfurled. Like in Dhemaji, a vast majority of the children in Assam have never seen an Independence Day parade in their life with the state witnessing a drumbeat of violence in the run-up to the national day celebrations since the early 1980s.

The people of Dhemaji, about 500 km from the state’s main city of Guwahati, have every reason to get paranoid as Independence Day draws near. It was a bright sunny morning on Aug 15, 2004 and like most patriotic Indians, Dipen Saikia allowed his two daughters, 14-year-old Rupa and 10-year-old Aruna, to attend the Independence Day parade at the Dhemaji College ground.

Attired in school uniforms, the two bubbly girls went for the celebrations but never returned home alive - all that came were bundles of dismembered limbs wrapped in blood-dripped white shrouds.

Rupa and Aruna were among the 12 killed, most of them schoolchildren, in a powerful landmine explosion on that fateful morning, minutes before the national flag was hoisted. The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was blamed for the explosion.

“Never ever shall I allow any of my relatives or family members to attend an Independence Day function - for us it is a day of mourning not for celebrations,” Saikia told IANS.

The national anthem rehearsal was definitely not music to the ears for middle-aged Ajit Saikia and his wife Tarulata.

The couple lost their 14-year-old son Girin in the same blast at the Independence Day parade.

“The image of Girin comes alive when we hear the sound of the brass band and that literally makes us mentally imbalanced,” Saikia, a small businessman, said.

Equally distraught is Puspa Deuri, a government engineer, who lost his wife Dhanada in the same explosion.

“I simply don’t want to remember the Independence Day and whenever this day approaches I feel as if my heart is going to stop beating,” Deuri said.

Four years after the blast in Dhemaji, police have completed the investigations and named a number of ULFA rebel leaders responsible for the blast.

“We have completed the investigations and are waiting for government approval to go ahead with the case. Among those named in our list are Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta,” a senior police official said.

Interestingly, Hazarika and Dutta are both leaders of the Alpha and Charlie companies of ULFA’s 28th battalion that declared a unilateral ceasefire in June. Now the two rebel leaders are talking of peace and an end to all forms of bloodshed.

Militants in the insurgency-hit northeast have for years been boycotting India’s Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations to protest New Delhi’s rule over the vast region rich in oil, tea and timber.

The run-up to the events has always been violent, with rebels striking vital installations including crude oil pipelines, trains and road and rail bridges, besides targeting federal soldiers.

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