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Sunday, 11 May 2014 07:32

Muslims Recount Horror of Massacre by Bodo Separatists in Assam

The recent massacre of Muslims in the northeastern Indian state of Assam by Bodo separatists shocked the civilized world. Here is an account of the bloodbath and its aftermath on May 1.

 

When Halima Khatun jumped into the Beki River with her five-month-old child to save his life from terrorists, she never thought it was the last time she was holding her child. "Everywhere there was sound of firing. Some people who ran towards the forest guards' post were also fired by them. I had no other option but to jump into the river," 30-year old Khatun told reporters in Gauhati, the capital of Assam. While fleeing, she left behind her 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son as she could not find them and they are still untraceable. Her husband was at the Bhangarpar market at the time of the attack. "I tried to swim across the other side of the river, but could not. I could not hold my infant child and he was washed away by strong current of the river in front of my eyes. I found a stationary log in the water and survived by holding on to it," the inconsolable mother said. She has not found the body of her child yet. Khatun said: "While in waters, the gunmen were firing at us.Thankfully the bullets did not hit me, but many who jumped to save their lives died," adding she also lost her two brother-in-laws in the attack. Same is the story of other victims of the terrorist attacks in Narayanguri and Hagrabari villages of Baksa district. Except three-four fortunate families, all the remaining 70-odd families have lost their loved ones. Azimuddin Ali says: "I lost my three sons and a daughter. Their bodies were lying in the field when I reached there after an hour of the attack." The 50-year old Ali, who was away in Bhangarpar market along with most of the men of the villages, ran to the river side after hearing gunshots. He said: "But no boat was ready to cross the river fearing the attack. I had to wait for an hour to cross. And when I reached the village, everything was finished." The weeping father said his wife jumped into the river with their two-year-old son, but the child could not survive the current of the river. Ali, who is a tailor by profession said: "I have found the body of one of my sons and the child, but my other son and the daughter are still missing."

Seventy-five year old Iman Ali said he lost his wife while he was away in the market on the east side of the Beki river, which flows through the Manas National Park. The attack on the people of Narayanguri and Hagrabari villages on west of the river took place at around 4 PM on May 2 when most of the men were in the market on the other side of the river. This is why, most of the victims are women and children. A 40-member rescue team started their operation yesterday in Baki River to fish out the bodies of the missing persons that are suspected to be flown in the river. The district administration has set up a relief camp on east side of Beki River. Both the villages have been deserted by the people and around 600 persons are taking shelter in the camp. So far, 41 people have been declared dead in the twin attacks since May 1 in Kokrajhar and Baksa districts. The attacks were carried out by Bodoland People's Front (BPF). Guwahati, India - Authorities in India believe attacks by rebels against Muslims in Assam in which about 40 people died may have been "politically orchestrated" to distort voting patterns ahead of polls in an autonomous ethnic council. Investigators are probing political and other motives for the violence in northeastern India's most populous state by gunmen belonging to the Bodo tribe that targeted Bengali-speaking Muslims in the area bordering Bhutan. Assam's state government has called on national authorities to help investigate the causes of the bloodshed, which evoked memories of ethnic rioting two years ago in which about 100 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and more than 400,000 displaced.

Political analyst, Dr Akhil Ranjan Dutta, has said: “I see the attacks on Muslims as an attempt to re-engineer the voting behaviour of the community in the area ahead of the Bodo council polls next year.  If the common candidate put up by non-Bodo groups comes to win the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha seat this time, it will be seen as a verdict against the demand for a separate Bodoland state by Bodo groups." The results of India's elections will be out on May 16. It was a sultry pre-monsoon night in Balipara, a village with tin and thatched-roof houses adjoining vast paddy fields in Kokrajhar district, when the first attack occurred just before midnight on May 1. Mohammed Sayat Ali, 28-year old, was dozing on his bed as his mother, wife, and two-year-old daughter Suhana Khatun slept at his father's house in the same courtyard. Without warning 20 gunmen suddenly burst into Ali's house and turned the life of the sawmill worker upside down. Sayat, like others who work outside their villages, had come home to cast his vote in India's national elections. "I was woken up by a commotion, I heard gunshots in neighbour Bacchu Ali's house. Looking out, I saw a group of black-hooded gunmen breaking open doors in other nearby houses. I ran to the jungle," Sayat said, breaking down as he related the incident. "I heard the sound of gunshots and called my wife on her cellphone. My mother picked up and said, 'Son, I'm dying, give me some water'. I realised my family had been shot." Sayat found his daughter already dead and his mother and wife still breathing, blood splattered on the bed. "I gave both of them water, but they died in my arms. I could do nothing."

Earlier that night in Narsingbari, a Muslim village of 60 families in nearby Baksa district, Sona Miya, a 45-year old, day-labourer, was sitting in his courtyard with his wife Ramisa Khatun, daughter Rashida, neighbour Shampa Bewa, and her three-year-old granddaughter Taslima. Four gunmen appeared on bicycles and opened fire with automatic weapons, killing Sona Miya, Ramisa and Shampa. The girls suffered bullet wounds and are now in hospital. The following day Muslim residents loaded their belongings into carts and began to flee to safety, recalling the bloodshed caused by ethnic rioting in the area in 2012. "The authorities were unwilling to set up relief camps for fear it might attract thousands of people like in 2012," said Laeeq ul-Islam Ahmed, a leader of the All Bodoland Muslim Students' Union. But panic-stricken people who fled their homes have set up camps of their own with tarpaulin roofs. Later that evening, gunmen descended on Narayanguri, another Muslim village in Baksa district close to Manas National Park World Heritage Site. They set fire to more than 40 houses before opening fire on villagers, killing several men, women and children. The last rites of the dead were delayed after locals squatted on a highway with the bodies of their kin, wrapped in black polythene. Although investigations are at a preliminary stage, Assam's authorities believe the attacks could be politically motivated.

Non-Bodo leaders say the Bodoland People's Front (BPF) - which controls the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council that administers the areas gripped by violence - was trying to force Muslims "to vote in a certain manner" ahead of next year's council polls. Abdur-Rahim Khan, a state legislator from the pro-Muslim All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), blamed a "loaded statement" by Pramila Rani Brahma, a legislator belonging to the BPF, which is allied to the ruling Congress party, for the violence. He said: “Her statement that Muslims did not vote for her party candidate in the Kokrajhar seat in the national elections that have just concluded had incited certain Bodo forces." The AIUDF, Assam's key opposition party, is headed by global perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, who is also seeking a federal investigation into the attacks and has called on the Congress party to break its ties with the BPF. The Bodoland Territorial Council was created by an agreement signed in 2003 between India's government and Bodo groups agitating for a separate state, but statistics suggest Bodos are not in a majority. Of the 3.2 million people in the four districts under the council's control, Bodos comprise just 28 percent, Muslims 19.5 percent, and other groups the remainder. Mohammed Sayat Ali explains that his family has lived in the region for decades. "My grandfather died in 2008 aged 65. He was born here at Balapara," he said. Political analysts say the latest attacks on Muslims are a clear attempt at ethnic cleansing. Dr Moneer ul-Hussain, a political scientist at Gauhati University, said: "There have been periodic attacks on Muslims and Adivasis belonging to the tea plucking community in the Bodo Council area. This is part of a systematic plan to try and cleanse the area of non-Bodos."

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