Fear isn't the first thing that strikes a visitor at Bakanda Government High Secondary School — a shelter for fleeing survivors of Assam's ethnic clashes, which Congress chief Sonia Gandhi recently visited. A picnic-like atmosphere is.
In a classroom, women cook steamed rice on benches. Two of them have been widowed. An orphaned girl wipes some watery stool from the tiny buttocks of her infant sister. "It's from licking mud," is her ‘diagnosis’.
The teacher's desk has been claimed by camp leader Abdul Jabber Akond. Outside, naked children play hopscotch.
The men are animatedly discussing a "breakthrough": the arrest of powerful Bodo legislator Pradip Brahma, who, they say, instigated the attacks. Over 70 have been killed so far and 400,000 displaced.
"It's ok here (in the camp), but what will happen when we leave this place?" Akond says, his hands slashing the air with a violent stroke. A political paradox has settled in the camp.
Accused of being foreigners, hundreds of Bengali Muslims tend to pin hopes on the distant central government, not the local administration.
In their eyes, the local Congress government is "biased" because of its political ties with the Bodo People's Front.
They curse Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi, but praise the party's top leaders, including Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh, for coming to their “rescue”.
This goodwill, however, is no endorsement of the Congress. Political support is "reserved" for a local billionaire baron who has changed their fortunes: Dhubri lawmaker Badruddin Ajmal, who heads the All India United Democratic Front. Like the settlers, Ajmal is a Bengali-speaking Muslim.
"Sonia came all the way to see us but Gogoi did not take action for five days after clashes began on July 19,” says Mohibur Islam, whose attempted assassination in Kokrajhar sparked off the violence.