Local polls violence caught Goalpara victims unawares

Assam violence

Sixty-five-year-old Manindra Chandra Seal was counting sacks of rice he had procured in an Assam village the previous weekend for sale in the weekly market at Krishnai the next day when a mob of several hundred people swept through his village of Bekipool, setting houses on fire.

"When I first heard some noise, I thought the local boys were shouting as part of the panchayat election, voting for which had already begun in the morning. I dragged the children out and ran towards the highway, where I saw dozens of others from my village joining me," he recalls, referring to his two grandchildren.

"By that time thick smoke was already beginning to rise from our village. We begged the jawans guarding the polling booth at the local School, but they stood there indifferently, watching the miscreants burn the village," Seal said, standing amid the rubble that his house and godown were reduced to in the violence last Tuesday.

The arson in Bekipool left over 180 people - including about 90 children - homeless. Elsewhere, in the nearly one dozen villages under two police stations in Goalpara district, over 10,000 people have taken shelter in relief camps, while the government has put the death toll in the violence at 21.

This includes 13 persons killed in police firing and eight in clashes that have affected people from various communities including Rabha tribals, Bengali Hindu settlers, migrant Muslims, Garo tribals and some Assamese, Garo and Nepali families too.

"The situation is fast improving. There has been no major incident of violence in the past 24 hours. Our main objective now is to ensure that no further clashes occur. We are also taking steps so that the various communities begin to work together again," J N Choudhury, Assam's DGP, told The Indian Express at Bekipool village Thursday. Bekipool is about 120 km west of Guwahati, on National Highway 37.

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