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ULFA faces public wrath in Assam

Venting their ire against the outfit over its cold-blooded slaughters, the locals take to the streets and block highways.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2007 14:16 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Shocked by the brutalities against innocent and poor Hindi-speaking people, Assam has turned against the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in an unprecedented manner.

Assamese have taken to the streets, even blocking traffic, while influential pressure groups are denouncing the outlawed ULFA following its cold-blooded slaughter of over 60 migrants mainly from Bihar - and its threat to kill more.

In parts of eastern Assam that bore the maximum brunt, locals have blocked highways shouting anti-ULFA slogans.

"Can ULFA achieve their goal of independence by killing innocent civilians," asked Harish Mahto, a Hindi-speaking businessman, whose grandparents had migrated to Assam 70 years back.

Until recently, people were too scared to raise their voice against the violence perpetrated by the rebels. But now they are quiet no more.

"There is a limit to everything. Initially, there was some sympathy for ULFA as it was believed to be fighting against exploitation by New Delhi," Ram Charan Deka, a retired schoolteacher, said.

"But now we no longer espouse their cause, not with ULFA going on a killing spree," he added.

The ULFA, which began its fight for an independent homeland in 1979, gunned down Hindi-speaking migrants over four days, triggering an exodus from Assam.

A survey by a civil society group, Assam Public Works, said 95 per cent of the people interviewed rejected ULFA's demand for independence.

The findings have irked ULFA, whose top leaders are now based in Bangladesh.

"Who has given them the right to declare that the majority of the people opposed the demand for an independent Assam during the vote," ULFA asked in a statement.

It also denied its involvement in the recent killings and blamed New Delhi for the massacre.

But the people of Assam are not convinced.

"Simply denying and shirking responsibility will not help," said Dhaniram Das, a retired government official.

Despite the public anger, the government has not been able to marginalise ULFA as it still commands considerable support in rural areas.

"People in rural areas still sympathise with ULFA for various reasons. There are no roads, healthcare facilities, drinking water supplies. (There are) deplorable conditions of schools and lack of minimum amenities," said Dhruba Rajbonshi, another retired government official.

"The people feel alienated from the mainstream and hence still believe that ULFA can change their lives," he added.

The most effective criticism of ULFA has come from the All Assam Students Union (AASU), which at one time championed Assamese nationalism like no one else.

AASU leader Samujjal Bhattacharyya asked in a statement, "Why is ULFA silent on ISI's (Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence) design to encourage Bangladeshi migrants into Assam?"

First Published: Jan 19, 2007 11:30 IST