At least five have been killed and many others suspected to be injured as unidentified gunmen opened fire in Tinsukia district's Dhola in Assam, on Thursday at around 7.20 pm.
The assailants, suspected to be members of the United Liberation Front of Assam - Independent [ULFA (I)], were reportedly dressed in army attire. "The deceased were at the shop of Shyamlal Biswas (one of the five killed in the attack) when the militants arrived, lined them up outside the shop and shot them from zero range,” said Prasanta Sagar Changmai, Superintendent of Police, Sadiya district.
The deceased have been identified as Subhal Das, Ananta Biswas, Shyamlal Biswas, Abinash Biswas and Dhanamjay Namahsudra, and are of Bengali origin.
Mugdhajyoti Dev Mahanta, Superintendent of Police, Tinsukia, has said that they have deployed a joint team of police forces and CRPF personnel in sensitive areas of the district in search of the miscreants. He added that Kakapather area, just a few kilometres away from Dhola, is known to be the hub of ULFA (I) militants.
Oinam Sarankumar Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Tinsukia district, said that necessary security arrangements have been made, and people have been asked to remain calm.Eyewitnesses claimed that six people rode two motorcycles and that they spoke Hindi.
This incident has taken place when Assam is divided on the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The Bill aims to provide shelter to illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The ULFA (I) has strongly opposed the bill, stating it would offer shelter to illegal Bengali migrants in Assam.
Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has directed Water Resources Minister Keshav Mahanta and Minister of State (Power) Topon Kumar Gogoi to visit the site and take stock of the situation.
"I am preparing to go to Sadiya. I am now in my constituency in Kaliabor. I have been asked to wait for a while, as authorities are trying to arrange for a helicopter. Otherwise, I will travel by car. The chief minister is personally monitoring the whole situation. He will be able to elaborate on this. We are not there with a package in mind but whatever needs to be done has to be done," Mahanta told Firstpost.
While DGP Kula Saikia has been told to rush to the site, Additional Director General of Police Mukesh Agarwal will be responsible for investigations.
The chief minister's office, in a press release, stated that perpetrators of the crime would be dealt with a firm hand. He has directed all deputy commissioners and SPs to stay alert.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has also condemned the attack in a tweet, and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has demanded strict action against the militants.
The All Assam Bengali Youth Students Federation has called for a 12-hour bandh in Tinsukia district on Friday to protest against the killing. Five Hindu organisations have also jointly called for a bandh in the adjoining Dibrugarh district on Friday.
Condemning the incident, All Assam Students' Union (AASU) general secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi said, "This kind of violence is not a solution to any problem in the society. AASU has always been against violence and killings. We always want a peaceful atmosphere in Assam. We appeal to the people to exercise restraint, so that in the coming days, this incident does not become a basis for more bloodshed, killings and communal violence. It is our responsibility to maintain calm. For the incident that occurred today (Thursday), the onus completely lies with the government. The government has totally failed to give security to the people. I am sure the home department had intelligence about this attack, and yet, they failed to prevent it. Moreover, over the last few days, senior BJP leaders and even ministers in the government made some very provocative statements, trying to create a communally tense atmosphere. Yet, the government remained a mute spectator."
Referring to past incidents, he said, "The government failed to act in the Subodh Biswas incident and the incidents that followed in Nagaon and Gauripur. The government has neither arrested the culprits nor punished them. AASU appeals to the government to act against communal forces."
Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti president Akhil Gogoi said, "This incident is highly condemnable. We condemn the killers and appeal to the people of Assam to condemn this incident. However, the background to this incident has been created by the Centre. The Centre has unconstitutionally placed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Parliament. The BJP and RSS have also given some highly provocative statements in support of the Bill. Many other organisations, with their irresponsible and communally charged statements, are also responsible. We demand an impartial judicial inquiry into this incident. Furthermore, KMSS appeals to all Assamese and Bengali speaking people not to get provoked and maintain good relations with each other."
Both AASU and KMSS are steering the movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
Notably, ULFA (I) had claimed responsibility of the blast that took place in Guwahati two weeks back, that left four injured. The militant outfit later told a local TV channel that it triggered the blast as a mark of protest against the Indian government’s attempt to shelter Bengali immigrants in Assam.
With inputs from Pranjal Baruah and Simantik Dowerah
(Syeda Ambia is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.)
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Updated Date: Nov 02, 2018 07:50:12 IST