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Independence Day is a day of mourning for 12 families in Assam

Thirteen years on, justice eludes families who lost kin in Independence Day blast in Dhemaji by the ULFA.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2017 12:11 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Assam,Indepenence Day,Blast victims
In Assam’s Dhemaji town, Independence Day brings back memories of a terror attack that left 13 people including 10 children dead in a bomb attack in a school 2004.(Representative Photo/HT)

While the entire nation prepares to celebrate 70 years of independence on Tuesday, 12 families in Assam continue to mourn their loss suffered on that day 13 years ago.

Justice still eludes the families of 13 victims including 10 children who were killed in a bomb blast that rocked Dhemaji, nearly 500 km east of Guwahati, on August 15, 2004. Forty others were injured in the incident.

The blast during Independence Day celebrations at Dhemaji College was carried out by the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) as retribution for opposing its diktat to boycott the function.

The outfit, which initially denied any role, accepted responsibility five years later and sought apology from the Assamese people. But it is not enough to provide succor to the families of victims who are still awaiting justice.

“As Independence Day approaches each year, we are gripped by sadness. But at the same time we feel proud that my son paid the ultimate price by opposing ULFA’s boycott call,” said Rajkumar Taid, a teacher in a government school.

Taid’s 11-year-old son, Sidhartha, a student of class IV, was among the 13 victims.

Padmeswar Borgohain, a 65-year-old retired railway employee, marks August 15 not by hoisting the tricolour, but by organising his daughter Manashi’s death anniversary. She would have turned 28 this year.

Like previous years, the state government has decided to observe Mourning Day (Shok Diwas) on August 16 to mourn the deaths at Dhemaji and also other victims of terrorist violence across the state.

The tricolour will be flown at half-mast at all government establishments. The state-wide programmes also include floral tributes to the departed souls, all-religion prayer meetings, a minute’s silence and a pledge against terrorism.

But more than these annual rituals, families of those killed in Dhemaji would feel a sense of closure only when the perpetrators of the blast are arrested and brought to justice.

“No one person has been arrested and we don’t know if the perpetrators of the heinous crime will ever be brought to justice,” said Tirtheswar Sonowal, a retired government employee who lost his 14-year-old son Bijit.

On being questioned about the status of the case, Assam Police DGP Mukesh Sahay could not provide details.

The families, who were given Rs 5 lakhs each as compensation, are still awaiting the promise of one government job to each family made by the previous Congress regime headed by Tarun Gogoi, to get fulfilled.

“We visited Guwahati several times in the hope of getting jobs. Most of us are retired and our children are unemployed or completing their studies. Maybe the new BJP-government in Assam will fulfill the promise,” said Borgohain.

Borgohain’s eldest son is unemployed and the younger one is completing a course in hotel management. Both of Sonowal’s sons are unemployed and Taid’s daughter is pursuing MSc from Dibrugarh University.

“Seven years after the incident, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa came to Dhemaji and apologized to us. There’s no question of forgiving murderers of innocent children,” said Taid.

As in earlier years, ULFA (Independent) and other terror outfits in the northeast have again given a call to boycott Independence Day. Security measures have been tightened to prevent untoward incidents.

First Published: Aug 14, 2017 11:38 IST