Newborn in arms, she walked 16 km to flee Karbi attack

Hours after giving birth to a girl, Shenshu Rengma, 42, a resident of Khanari in Assam's Karbi Anglong district, was forced to flee as Karbi People's Liberation Tigers (KPLT) militants attacked the village at dawn on December 27. As houses were set on fire and shots fired, Shenshu, with her newborn in her arms, ran into the nearby forest.

"I was still bleeding after delivery... the first sounds she heard were gunshots," said Shenshu, who is among the 1,110 who have taken shelter at a relief camp in the Borpathar High School here.

The 292 residents of Khanari first walked nine kilometres to the nearest village, Phancherop, where they, along with people from surrounding villages, remained for the night. The next morning, they walked another seven kilometres through hilly mud tracks, to the main road near Chokihola police station, from where they were put into trucks and sent to the relief camp.

"The baby is lucky, she got medical care at the relief camp. All our other children have grown up without any medical care as there are no health centres in the Rengma Naga villages," said Shenshu's mother-in-law Mariam Rengma, 70.

About 2,000-odd Rengmas, along with a few Bodo, Nepali and Adivasi families, have fled their homes in 16 villages following the recent KPLT attacks. Nine Rengmas have been killed so far, while 10 Karbis have been killed in retaliation, nine of them in Nagaland. Fearing more retaliatory attacks, about 2,000 Karbis from 18 villages have also taken shelter in six relief camps.

The KPLT has reportedly demanded that all non-Karbi residents in the district must pay 60 per cent of their income as "tax". "It is a fact that the militant group has been extorting money by imposing tax on a section of people. Our reports say the group suddenly raised the tax rate, and the Rengmas refused to pay, leading to the current situation," said P K Buragohain, deputy commissioner.

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