Where Aug 15 only ignites fear, sorrow
Middle-aged Ajit Saikia and his wife Tarulata are visibly disturbed hearing the police brass band rehearsing for Independence Day. It might sound odd but the couple wants to forget the day India attained freedom.
The Saikias are from Gogamukh village, near Dhemaji town in eastern Assam, around 500 km from the state's main city Guwahati. They have every reason to get paranoid as Independence Day draws near.
It was a bright sunny morning on Aug 15, 2004, when, like most Indians, the couple allowed their 14-year-old son Girin, a bright Class 9 student, to attend the annual Independence Day parade at the Dhemaji college ground.
Attired in school uniform, Girin went for the celebrations but never returned home alive - all that came was a bundle of dismembered limbs wrapped in a blood-dripped white shroud.
Girin was among the 13 people killed, mostly schoolchildren, when a powerful landmine exploded at the venue, just before the Indian flag was unfurled. The separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was blamed for the mayhem. Some 25 people suffered injuries.
The killings sparked an outcry in Assam against ULFA.
"Now whenever Independence Day approaches, our family gets mentally upset with the images of Girin coming alive," Saikia, a petty businessman, told IANS in a voice choked with emotion.
Girin's elder sister Bulbuli, a college student, is equally frightened.
"Never ever shall I go to attend an Independence Day parade in my life...
Who knows there could be another blast?" Bulbuli said.
Equally distraught is Puspa Deuri, a government engineer who lost his wife Dhanada in that Aug 15 horror.
"I simply don't want to remember Independence Day. Whenever this day approaches, I feel as if my heart is going to stop beating," Deuri said, tears welling up in his eyes.
Deuri refrained from attending the last two Independence Day functions and did not allow his two children - his son who is studying medicine and a college-going daughter - to venture out of their home on both occasions.
"Frankly, I don't have the courage to step out of my home on Aug 15," Deuri said.
With the 2004 killings still fresh in Assam, family members of those killed are hoping that the government declares the victims as martyrs.
"The government has built a memorial with photographs of all 13 victims near the blast site. If they are declared martyrs, it would be some consolation for people like us," Girin's mother Tarulata said and then broke down.
Dipen Saikia is still in shock, unable to come to terms with reality - his two daughters, 14-year-old Rupa and 10-year-old Aruna, were killed in the blast.
"For us Independence Day is a day of mourning because the memories of the blast come alive. I saw my two daughters ripped apart. This act by ULFA is nothing but barbaric," Dipen Saikia said in a matter-of-fact manner.
Elsewhere in the district there are hundreds of children who have never witnessed an Independence Day parade in their life, thanks to separatist trouble the state has witnessed since the early 1980s.
"At least I wouldn't allow my two sons to go to the parade ground. You never know what happens," said Tarini Das, a government official.
For many children, Independence Day means sitting at home and watching TV or playing indoors.
It is not that the kids - and their parents and guardians - are happy over the state of affairs.
"It is a shame our children are growing up without relishing this moment of pride," said Ganesh Das, an ageing freedom fighter.
"But you cannot blame them or their guardians as circumstances have compelled them to stay indoors rather than be at the parade ground to witness the national flag being unfurled," he added.
Militants in the insurgency-hit northeast have for years boycotted India's Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations. The run-up to the events has always been bloody.
It will be no different this August 15 - the 60th anniversary of India's freedom.
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