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HindustanTimes Mon,21 Apr 2014

Assam: schools set ablaze ahead of council polls

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  Guwahati, November 11, 2013
First Published: 18:16 IST(11/11/2013) | Last Updated: 19:17 IST(11/11/2013)

Three school buildings were set ablaze at Krishnai in Assam’s Goalpara district in the wee hours on Monday as the tense Rabha Hasong tribal areas braced for more violence ahead of contentious autonomous council elections from November 13.

A powerful crude bomb was also recovered from the district’s lifeline National Highway-37 around the same time, forcing security forces to step up vigil in the areas where elections to the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC) are scheduled between November 13 and 25.

On Sunday, a bomb was recovered on the same highway near New Dudhnoi area while four bombs were recovered from railway tracks between Dudhnoi and Krishnai on November 8.

The Congress-led Assam government has decided to go ahead with the long-overdue elections despite violent protests by non-tribals who are apprehensive of losing their rights under the new administrative set-up.

The Rabha-Hasong tribe comprises around 9% of the state’s 3.5 million-strong tribal population and their council covers almost all of Goalpara and some parts of Kamrup (rural) district, extending close to the state’s capital Guwahati.

Besides non-tribal organisations, militant outfits based in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills – bordering the autonomous council – are also opposed to the elections. The RHAC area has a sizeable chunk of Garo population.

On November 3, Garo tribal militant outfit United A’chik Liberation Army (UALA) gunned down seven Rabha tribesmen at Gendabari in Goalapara district.

This is the first time that the state government is holding elections to the RHAC since its creation in 1995 with headquarters at Dudhnoi town.

Non-tribal students’ bodies and organisations have also called for a RHAC area bandh from November 12 to 25 in protest against the elections.
“We will foil the government’s move at any cost,” said Nayanmoni Saloi, secretary of Non-Tribal Students’ Union.

The Assam government has deployed 15 companies of paramilitary forces in RHAC areas to oversee the elections.

“The bomb recovered today seems to be handiwork of those opposing the elections. We are closely monitoring the situation in the RHAC areas,” said Nitul Gogoi, Goalpara superintendent of police.

Immigrant Muslims in Goalpara district are also opposing the RHAC election.

In the last two years, Goalpara district has witnessed intermitent clashes between Rabha tribals and immigrant Muslims.

The police are also looking into reports that the UALA has established links with Bangladesh-based Islamic terrorist outfit Harkat-ul-Jehad al Islami (HuJI).

Earlier this year, the Assam government was forced to call off the elections following clashes between Rabhas and Muslims. The violence claimed 20 lives – 13 of them died in police firing – and forced more than 12,000 people to take shelter in 12 relief camps.

To satisfy the growing clamour among tribal groups for protection of their social and cultural identities, the Assam government has been doling out tribal councils, allegedly without consulting the other stake-holders in the respective areas.

The state now has as many as nine autonomous councils.

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