The day the riots began, Shahinur Alam of Bongaigaon town had boarded a Kokrajhar-bound bus to attend an army recruitment rally. The 22-year-old subsequently went missing before his body was found floating on river Gwrang.
The river originates in Bhutan, meanders through Chirang district, turns westward to flow past the western edge of Kokrajhar town (236 km west of Guwahati) before dipping south into Dhubri district and merging with the Brahmaputra.
In Chirang district, Gwrang goes by another name — Swrmanga. Locals aren’t sure how the river got two names, but that perhaps explains its ‘dual face’. It sustains thousands residing along its banks but displaces them temporarily during monsoon-induced flash floods.
Gwrang — Bodos and Muslims agree – is the river of life. But it turns a graveyard in times of conflicts; people shot or hacked are thrown into it to be eaten by carnivorous fish species such as borali. Or to be found floating downstream, like Alam.
Bodies of a quarter of the 56 people killed in the communal clashes since July 20 were fished out of Gwrang. On the brighter side, the river helped at least 40,000 people to swim to safety.
“Masked gunmen set our houses on fire and shot at will. Had I not swum to safety, my body would have rotted in the river,” said Rafiqul Hussain, 42, of Bhatipara Kauniabhasa village in Kokrajhar district.
The village is one of many that allegedly sprung up along the banks of Gwrang after a peace accord in 2003 that led to the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council. The settlers, who trace their roots to Bangladesh, are either daily wage earners or fishermen.
“Like a mother, Gwrang embraced my family. We can never be indebted enough to this river,” said Shakeeb Ali, 38, an inmate of a relief camp in Bongaigaon district’s Salmara area.