Saturday, August 25, 2012

Independence Day & Nightmares

The fire has doused, the embers continue to shimmer. The media has stopped following the fate of the people of North East in other Indian cities, as the ‘exodus’ ends, even though, youngsters are still picked for hate crimes, either on the train on their way home (where at least two deaths have been reported near New Jalpaiguri), or elsewhere (On Thursday, an engineer from Guwahati was robbed of Rs 1,000 in the Pune Cantonment areas.).

And Kokrajhar continues to burn, as a Bodo MLA was arrested for instigating riots, on Thursday. But, life goes on and death lingers in the corner, ready to strike you down. All you can do is to hope that you will be spared.

I have seen Kokrajhar railway station numerous times, as it is on the train route, connecting Assam to the rest of India, and all those times it looked like a sleepy, little town, not unlike other district headquarters in Assam in the 1990s. I have been there once, a long time ago and I don’t remember. But, I have known the district, especially its interiors, being in the eye of the storm, for as long as I remember.

As the city (shall we say town) is the headquarters of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) now, during the Bodoland movement it was the epicentre of the crisis. In the 1990s, and even after, you’d open the local Assamese dailies and you’d have one or other news about people gunned down, killed, or bomb blasts on trains, buses, everywhere, in Kokrajhar and Gossaigaon and adjoining areas. The ancient Gaurang River was carrying blood, washing blood, and it continues to do so.

Illegal immigration of Bangladeshis, for long a divisive issue in Assam with its nearly 30% Muslim population, is once again at the heart of communal clashes that have ravaged large parts of Lower Assam, driving out lakhs of people yet to find the courage to go back home. But while those from Bangladesh entering India through Dhubri and other places illegally may already have made their way to the cities — as no one can stay undetected in the villages for too long, what with local groups after the formation of BTC keeping an eye on the movement of people and the areas crawling with intelligence men—many who've suffered are poor, genuine Bengali-speaking Muslim citizens.

Anand Soondas on "Illegal" immigrants with valid papers in Times of India. The full story here.

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