As the death toll mounted to 62 in the four attacks by Bodo militants in Assam's Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts, angry Adivasi villagers today retaliated by setting ablaze houses of Bodos and took out protest marches.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the majority of victims in the "barbaric" attacks that took place last evening were women and children and steps were being taken to ensure that the situation does not escalate. The Centre said it was rushing in 5000 paramilitary personnel at the request of Assam government.
IGP (Law and Order) S N Singh told PTI that the death toll had risen to 62 with 37 deaths in Sonitpur and 25 in Kokrajhar after heavily armed militants belonging to the Songbijit faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) swooped down on the four remote Adivasi villages of the two districts and killed the inhabitants last evening.
In Sonitpur district, 31 people were killed in Maitalu Basti under Zinzia police station and six in Jungle basti under Dhekiajuli police station while 20 people were killed in Shantipur Ultapani under Kokrajhar police station and five in Pakhriguri under Serfanguri police station of Kokrajhar district, he said.
Search operations were continuing in these interior villages which lack proper road communication.
Meanwhile, angry protestors, belonging to the Adivasi community set ablaze five houses allegedly belonging to the people of the Bodo community in Phuloguri area under Bishwanath Chariali police station in Sonitpur district
Protest rallies were also taken out by thousands of tea garden workers, armed with bow and arrows, and a seven-km stretch of National Highway 15 was blocked by the protestors near Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur.
Union Minister for Home Rajnath Singh and his deputy Kiren Rijiju were scheduled to arrive here this evening to take stock of the prevailing situation.
The Cabinet today paid homage to victims of the "cowardly" attacks on 'adivasis' in Assam.
Singh said in Delhi that he has been briefed on the situation by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and the Centre would take whatever action is necessary.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has directed state ministers Neelamani Sen Deka and Basanta Das to visit Kokrajhar and ministers Rockybul Hussain, Tanka Bahadur Rai and Prithbi Majhi to Sonitpur district.
"Most barbaric and most henious crime these NDFB(S) group has committed. We have to deal with it firmly.
"We have to go in a big way so that the culprits are booked," the Chief Minister said, adding that the security agencies have been directed to provide protection to the people in "sensitive" areas, including those inhabited by Bodos.
He said the militants will no longer be allowed to "hit and run" and the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have assured him all help.
"Neither the Government of Assam nor the Government of India will surrender to these militant groups. That's why we are asking for more paramilitary forces from the government of India," Gogoi said.
"Yesterday, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister assured me of all help," he said.
Condemning the attacks, Rijiju said, "This is a blatant attack in a situation where it is not expected. The attack is on innocent people and the location of the attack in very remote and rural area."
"I would like to say that this is very unfortunate that this kind of violence has taken place. We have already sent a message that violence and development cannot go together.
"If we want to develop North-East, peace must prevail. Peace and development are inseparable elements," he said.
Curfew has been clamped since last night in areas under four police stations in Sonitpur district. The army was called in last night to help maintain order. The killings are seen as retribution by militants who suspected that tribals were informing security forces about their movements. Over the weekend, the police killed two Bodo militants and recovered a cache of arms during a counterterrorism raid. The armed forces have stepped up their focus on Bodos in the last few months.
This is not the first such act by Bodo militants, although the victims are from a different community. Earlier attacks by Bodos tended to target Muslims, including those who speak Bengali and are seen by Bodo tribes as illegal migrants. Tensions between the two communities have been simmering for years. In May, Bodo militants killed 32 Muslims in a brutal attack.
That came after the worst phase of violence in 2012, when clashes between Bodos and Muslims led to 78 deaths. Over 300,000 were displaced and became refugees in their own country. Ever since that time, various ethnic groups in the Bodoland area, formed after a peace deal between militants and the government, have been polarized.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had condemned the killing of innocent people as an act of cowardice.
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Killing of innocent people in Sonitpur & Kokrajhar is an act of cowardice. Our thoughts & prayers are with the families of the deceased.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 23, 2014