A proposed nursery for social forestry might have sown the seeds of the Kokrajhar violence that has left 80 people dead since July 20.
Multi-faith Bodo tribals and Bengali Muslim migrants have been pointing fingers at each other for the riots. Many forest officials, however, fear a legal eviction drive against encroachers on forestland may have been twisted out of proportion to trigger the riots.
A signboard displaying ‘land reserved for Idgah (prayer ground)’ was among some temporary structures removed from a 25-hectare forestland adjoining the Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary.
The forest department, under control of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), had earmarked the land — 8km southeast of Kokrajhar town — under Parbajhora forest division for a nursery under a re-greening mission.
“We don’t know who installed the signboard, but a few days before the eviction drive on May 29, non-tribal settlers had come in droves to prevent our employees from working on the plantation project,” a Chakrashila sanctuary forest guard said.
Days later, two persons including a BTC employee were beaten up during a Kokrajhar strike called by All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union to protest the anti-encroachment drive against the Idgah.
Apparently stray incidents of violence started in Kokrajhar in the first week of July before the riots erupted, later spreading to Chirang and Dhubri districts.
BTC chief conservator of forest GC Basumatary said, “If the eviction drive was a factor in the violence is not for us to say. We went by the rules to remove encroachers and signs of attempted encroachment.”