Violence escalated in Assam on Wednesday as the toll in the carnage by NDFB(S) militants rose to 68, mostly women and children, with advivasis retaliating by torching houses and attacking a police station during protests that left 3 persons dead allegedly in police firing.
37 people were killed in Sonitpu district, 25 in Kokrajhar and 3 in Chirang district after heavily armed militants allegedly belonging to the Songbijit faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland swooped down on remote Adivasi villages of the 3 districts and killed the inhabitants last evening. Among the dead, 21 were women and 18 children, according to police.
The Centre said it was rushing about 5,000 paramilitary personnel at the request of Assam Government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief over loss of lives and sanctioned ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to each of the seriously injured.
An amount of Rs 86 lakh is being released to the state government from Prime Minister's National Relief Fund, a PMO statement said.
Even as Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said that steps were being taken to prevent the situation from escalating, violent protests by Adivasis erupted against the killings.
Police opened fire as angry protestors turned violent in Dhekiajuli of Sonitpur district, a senior police official said.
The protestors, armed with bow and arrows, were marching towards the police station in Dhekajuli town and despite repeated appeal by police to stop, they marched on and attempted to storm the police station, he said.
Police initially attempted to disperse the protestors by resorting to lathicharge, but opened fire when the situation worsened, the official said.
Three persons were killed and several others injured in police action, he said.
Angry protestors also set ablaze twenty houses allegedly belonging to the people of the Bodo community in Phuloguriin Sonitpur district.
31 people were killed in attack in remote village of Maitalu Basti under Zinzia police station bordering Arunachal Pradesh and six in Jungle basti under Dhekiajuli police station while two others were injured in Sonitpur district, an Assam police spokesperson said.
In Kokrajhar district, 25 people were killed in 3 villages with Ultapani bordering Bhutan having the highest toll of 12 followed by Lungsung with eight and Pakhriguri with 5 deaths while four persons were injured.
In Chirang district, 3 persons were killed in Kalmandir area under Runikhata police station and 3 others were injured.
A 7-km stretch of National Highway 15 was blocked by Adivasi protestors near Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur.
Home Minisiter Rajnath Singh, who was briefed by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on the situation, and his deputy Kiren Rijiju were scheduled to arrive in Guwahati on Wednesday evening to take stock of the prevailing situation.
Decrying the "cowardly" killings, Singh said it was a terror act and will be dealt accordingly.
The Union Cabinet also paid homage to victims of attacks on 'adivasis' in Assam.
Gogoi directed state ministers Neelamani Sen Deka and Basanta Das to visit Kokrajhar and ministers Rockybul Hussain, Tanka Bahadur Rai and Prithbi Majhi to Sonitpur district.
"Most barbaric and most henious crime these NDFB(S) group has committed. We have to deal with it firmly.”
"We have to go in a big way so that the culprits are booked," the chief minister said, adding that the security agencies have been directed to provide protection to the people in "sensitive" areas, including those inhabited by Bodos.
He said the militants will no longer be allowed to "hit and run" and the prime minister and the home minister have assured him all help.
"Neither the Government of Assam nor the Government of India will surrender to these militant groups. That's why we are asking for more paramilitary forces from the government of India," Gogoi said.
"Yesterday, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister assured me of all help," he said.
Condemning the attacks, Rijiju said, "This is a blatant attack in a situation where it is not expected. The attack is on innocent people and the location of the attack in very remote and rural area."
"I would like to say that this is very unfortunate that this kind of violence has taken place. We have already sent a message that violence and development cannot go together.
"If we want to develop North-East, peace must prevail. Peace and development are inseparable elements," he said.
With inputs from PTI