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Sombre Bihu festivities in Assam after killings

There is an eerie silence across Assam with a massive military crackdown against the outlawed ULFA.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2007 14:00 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Blame it on those who unleashed mayhem against innocent migrant workers, the usual merriment associated with Magh Bihu, one of Assam's most popular festivals, is missing.

When New York-based software consultant Arnab Deka planned his visit to Assam to celebrate Magh Bihu, the harvest festival, with his family, he never imagined the trip could be so horrifying.

After flying nearly 26 hours from the US, jetlagged Deka landed at the Mohanbari Airport in the eastern Assam district of Dibrugarh before taking the final lap of his journey by road to his native town in Doomdooma.

Deka was simply taken aback - the nearly 100 km stretch from the airport to Doomdooma took him about four hours, with security forces checking his car and belongings at least a dozen times.

"It was like a war zone with soldiers with automatic weapons frisking and questioning many others like me with a fair amount of suspicion," Deka said.

The mood at home was subdued although Deka was visiting his family after three years in the US.

There is an eerie silence across Assam with a massive military crackdown against the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which went berserk gunning down Hindi-speaking migrant workers for four days from January 5. The orgy left some 60 migrants and over 10 others dead.

"The usual fanfare associated with Magh Bihu is simply not there," Deka said. Magh Bihu will be celebrated on Sunday. The previous night men, women and children traditionally organise community feasting in their localities.

"A few days back this place smelt of blood. It is now unthinkable to celebrate Bihu the way we normally would do," said Gautam Hatibaruah, a retired schoolteacher. "It does not matter who were killed. They too were humans."

Business has been hit with people generally avoiding the usual shopping spree during this time of the season.

"It does not matter if we celebrate Bihu in a subdued manner this time. Our heart goes out to the families of the dead and this is our own way of respecting their feelings," said Malabika Chetia, a housewife.

The military offensive has dampened the festivities. Many are scared of getting caught in crossfire.

"You never know when there is a gun battle. It is better to remain safe," said another local resident, Babumoni Das.

Amid the gloom, however, people hope the rebels would soon see reason and come for peace talks with the government.

"Good sense should prevail on ULFA. At the same time New Delhi should take some positive steps forward to solve this problem. We don't need any more bloodshed," added Tankeswar Gogoi, a community elder.

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