Nearly a week after five people of Bengali origin were killed by unidentified terrorists in Assam’s Tinsukia district, the nature of the crime is still under debate.
Rights group Amnesty India had issued a strong condemnation a day after the incident, calling on the state government to protect every resident of the state regardless of class and ethnicity. “The targeted killing of Bengalis in Assam is reprehensible. The state government needs to protect the right to life of all persons living in the state,” it said in a statement issued last Friday.
The statement alleged that the November 1 incident, wherein the five victims were made to kneel by the side of a canal and summarily executed by masked men in army fatigues, had occurred in a “climate of fear and stigma” generated by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise. “It is time Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal took proactive steps to prevent further violence,” it added.
But not everybody in Tinsukia town, 50 km from the site of Thursday’s killings, believes that it was a case of “targeted killing”. And even the fact that the region has a history of migrant murders — terrorists shot dead 10 people of Bihari origin in 2003 and two others in 2016 — can’t seem to unnerve them.
Anil Yadav, who sells sharbat made of gram flour, declares that he harbours no fear. “I was born and raised in Tinsukia, and that makes me as Assamese as anybody else. Why should I be afraid? Five people were killed, but nobody don’t know by whom and why. Then why should I believe that a single community is being targeted?” he asks.
Nitai Lal Das, who owns a paan shop in the Bengali-dominated Durgabari area, agrees. “I don’t like this talk of targeted killing,” he says. “How many Bengalis will they kill? For each death, a hundred will be born.”
However, another section of the migrant community refuses to hide their fear under courageous words. “Yes, we are frightened. There are at least three or four shutdowns here every month, and there is always the fear of militants,” says Madhu Sahu, who works in a tea garden.
Both Sikandar Singh, a roadside hairdresser from Chapra in Bihar, and Swarup Bhowmik, who hails from Bengal, believe they may have to flee if the situation deteriorates. “The situation has become very tense in the days following the NRC exercise. We can’t even speak out openly. We are scared, and that’s a fact,” says Mr Bhowmik.
The political blame game is not making things any better either. Former Congress Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has criticised Mr Sonowal for not visiting the victims’ families. “When such killings occurred during my tenure, I always rushed to the spot. If Sarbananda Sonowal can go to Chennai by chartered flight to inaugurate a building, why can’t he board another one to be with the grieving relatives?” he asked.
The Chief Minister was on a visit to the Chennai capital when the incident occurred.
Mr Sonowal, however, insists that there is no need to worry. “Everyone in Assam is safe. My government will work towards sabka saath, sabka vikas,” he said, quoting Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s slogan of collective growth.