Monday, March 18, 2013

A Bad Dream

I accompanied a team of people from the Owner Driven Reconstruction Collaborative (ODRC) to the Muslim area of Dotma, into the village of Munshirghop. The road was the same one that had taken me to the Bodo affected villages yesterday. That area had been surrounded by Muslim villages. The area we visited today was Muslim and surrounded by Bodo communities. Dotma fell into the Kokrajhar sub-division. It was full of large tarpaulin covered tents. Bearded men sat in clusters, conversing over tea. Our vehicle passed a volleyball net on the left. Finally, we arrived at the village school, or what remained of it. There was a concrete base with a few vertically standing pillars. That is what remained after the burning and looting. ODRC had begun to rebuild this school with the help of the community. I was introduced to Yusuf, a local youth who was working with ODRC in the reconstruction efforts. He took me to his home, where I met his mother. Within a few minutes, some nine women had gathered around the curious phenomenon that was me. They began to speak, Yusuf translated some, and I listened.

Around 350 families stayed in Munshirghop. The women were evacuated first to the villages of Ranigaon and Bhamutpur in the district of Dhubri which was 25 km away. One man and woman were attacked with sticks by Bodos. In the morning, no women remained. There were rumours that something was going to happen. At 8 pm, the men suggested going to the police station, but the question of safety arose. At 10 pm we heard explosions. A gas cylinder had exploded in the nearby masjid. We called the SDC, the ODC, the Collector, but no one picked up. It was 2:30  am. We thought we would go to the station as a group. The DSP came to our village and assurced us that the CRPF would arrive in the morning. We slept from 3-5 in the morning. Soon, we woke up to news from the village of Titliguri. We were told to run, to leave this place, so we did - on bicycles, motorcycles, on foot, through any means possible. On the way, a man was hit heavily by a rod. He died 15 minutes later. The ABMSU sent vehicles to us which some took to the police station. It was safe there. Ramzan was going on, and it was raining. We went to Pokhregaon.

The village of Pokhregaon was dominated by Muslims, so we were safe there. In the beginning, there was no ration at the camp. The villagers chipped in and contributed rice and dal which we cooked collectively. Those that could afford it stayed at the homes of their friends. During our time at the camp, Jamaat-e-Islaam-Hind provided support by giving us food. The government did not do anything for us. The conditions were congested, 3-4 families living under one tent. Eight to ten women delivered babies during this time at the Ranigaon Hospital. They were given Horlicks at the relief camp. A doctor from Mumbai had come to provide treatment at the camp.

After 4-5 months at the camp, the DC released an order for people to return to their villages. Those whose names were on the voters list would be brought back first. The first group consisted of 144 families who were given land pattas upon return, legalizing their property ownership. The second group of 163 families received pattas as well. The remaining families returned, but were not given any pattas. The women arrived in early February. During their time at the camp, five had been widowed.

Nothing remained when we saw our villages again. Only concrete floors were left. They had broken the walls and taken furniture, equipment, utensils, even the ceramic tiles of the latrine were gone. They closed our wells by stuffing them with trash and cut down our betel nut trees, preventing us from using them as a source of income.

We women can no longer go to the market as it is not safe. In fact, we do not leave the village itself. Before the conflict we did not used to work, and the same applies now. The men do odd jobs here and there but we largely depend on our financial compensation for survival. In cases of childbirth, the husband takes his wife to another home where the delivery can take place. Occasionally, we visit the Dotma Primary Healthcare Center where few medicines are available.

Our children's education has been set back a year. There is a temporary school were a Bodo woman comes to teach. She is also afraid for her safety so she can not come daily. 

Baths and morning ablutions happen at the river. Recently, we have starting building our homes again. During this rebuilding on the other side of the river, homes were burnt. This incident was reported to the police station and two people were picked up, only to be released the next day. 

When  we see Bodos on the street they lower their heads and walk on. We don't lower our heads, why should we? We did not start this.

Yusuf's mother prepared a hearty lunch of rice, chicken, and lauki. We ate together, she and I; hardly a quarter of my rice had been swallowed and she had already finished her meal. That kind of speed deserves respect. She asked me if I was a Muslim. I said no. She lived with two of her younger sons in Pokhregaon and came here on Sundays to visit her oldest, Yusuf, and her husband who worked in the police station. Yusuf was typing on his phone. There was no electricity here, so his phone needed to be charged. Additionally, the Bodos had destroyed the phone towers, so certain networks like Reliance were not available here. His family was constructing a home in Pokhregaon. That made sense. It was safer there.

They used to have a printing store in the market. Other Muslims used to run 3 computer stores and a hardware store in the same market. Now, these stores were occupied by the Bodos and had been changed to sell footwear, clothing, and books. The norm was that if rent had not been paid for 3 months, then the shop would be given to someone else. When Yusuf had tried calling the Bodo shopowner to explain how the riots had caused a delay in rent, he was told to call later as it was unsafe for Bodos and Muslims to talk. Three months passed and the shop was taken from Yusuf. Some 50 meters from their home, a grove of bamboo trees remained standing. I was told that was Bodo property that is why they had remained uncut. I feel like this is all a bad dream. Did this really happen? There is no answer to such misery-saturated questions.

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