Jomila Bibi gave birth to a baby girl a few hours before Bodo rioters attacked her house at Jauliapara in Kokrajhar. The Bengali woman ran for her life, carrying the newborn and crossed a river to reach Lakshmigunj, a Muslim-dominated village, braving the trauma of delivery.
In a cruel twist of fate, she ended up at a primary health clinic in Lakhsmigunj, where the only doctor was a Bodo. “I told the doctor that my daughter had fever and couldn't breath properly. But he told me there was nothing to worry and to take her back home,” said Jomila.
Quite out of context, the doctor asked her whether she had named the baby. A bewildered Jomila answered that she never got the time to. He suggested that she name the baby Hujuki, as she was born during hujuk (Bengali for commotion).
“I was speechless. I had gone to him to get my daughter treated and he was busy naming her,” she said.
Hujuki's condition worsened after they reached the relief camp at Lakshmigacha primary school. Jomila took her baby back to the clinic twice. “But the doctor refused to get her admitted,” she said. Hujuki died in the relief camp in less than a week.
Her death sparked a fury in the camp. There were massive protests outside the health centre and the authorities were forced to get four ailing babies admitted. However, a fortnight later, as the protests died down, the babies were shifted back to the relief camps.
“The Assam government simply toed the Bodo line and deprived us of all sort of help,” said Shaukat Ali, another riot victim. “The baby died and the government health centre did nothing. They follow the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), which orchestrated the attack on us.”
The riots of Kokrajhar displaced around 4.5 lakh people, some of them Bodos, from lower Assam. While lakhs of Muslims were sheltered in primary schools with no breathing space or medical attention, Bodo victims were, reportedly, treated differently in the relief camps organised by the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District that falls under the BTC.
They were sheltered in engineering colleges, nursing colleges and other new buildings in the area, and were provided medical vans equipped with a medical team and enough stock of medicines. While the Muslims were served rice and dal, the Bodos were fed with nutritious vegetables and eggs.
According to eyewitness accounts, on July 20, when the first batch of Muslims were driven out of Kokrajhar by angry Bodo activists, not a single Bodo was attacked. Bodo tribals themselves admit that it was only when the houses were burnt and the crops looted that the Muslims started retaliating.
“Our houses were not burnt, nor looted. The Muslims asked us to get out of the village and we just did so,” said Geeta Brahmma, a homemaker, who found refuge at a nursing centre.
But Bodos like Geeta do not want to go back to their villages as they are now filled with Muslim riot victims. They want Muslims to be sent back to their original homes so that all of them can live in peace.
This has become a major issue as Bodo leaders are vehemently opposing Muslims returning to their villages without proper scrutiny. “We will definitely appeal to the Assam government to scrutinise these people. Only if they are found to have been living here for a sufficiently long time should they be allowed to stay back. Otherwise they should be recognised as infiltrators,” said Promod Boro, president of the All Bodo Students' Union.
The riots were not communal, but were given a false religious colour, said Boro. “It was only a movement against an anti-national force, which suddenly turned violent,” Boro told THE WEEK.
However hard Boro and his men try to portray the riots as non-communal, they will not be able to convince many like Jasimuddin Sheikh, who used to live in Joypur, Kokrajhar. “Seventeen mosques and 20 makeshift madrasas in my village were destroyed. If not communal, what else should I call it, saab?” asked Jasimuddin, at a relief camp.
“Whenever I close my eyes I can see thousands of people rushing to me with guns and petrol, setting my house on fire, and dragging me out of the house by my shirt collar,” he said. Muslims are refusing to go back to their villages, even though the state government and local Bodo authorities are trying to talk them into doing so.
“We will not go back to our village unless our demands are met. We want our safety, security and property back. We also want continuous monetary support for at least five years. Till then we will stay in the relief camps,” said Mohd Sukur Ali, at the Lakshmigacha relief camp.
The Muslims have another demand. “The Assam government owes us an apology. They will have to give us a written declaration that they would never let the Bodos attack us again,” said Ali.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has, reportedly, initiated talks with Muslim and Bodo leaders, to try and convince them for a patch-up.