With ethnic violence escalating in lower Assam's Kokrajhar area, train services to and from the north east have been severely hit. The railways estimate over 20,000 passengers are stranded at different places across Assam and neighbouring West Bengal; as many as 21 trains have been halted.
At the Guwahati Railway station, hundreds of passengers have taken over all available spaces. Many of those planning to spend the night at the railway station are the elderly, or women and children.
Today, the railways cancelled 11 express trains from Guwahati to Delhi and other parts of the country. All trains from Guwahati to other parts of the country have to pass Kokrajhar, as the station is located on the strategic Guwahati Delhi main railway line. This is also true for any train coming into Guwahati.
This route, a section of which branches out to Kolkata beyond Assam, is the only one that connects Guwahati to the rest of the country. The only other way for passengers, is to take unaffordable flights, or to travel by roads.
At the Guwahati railway station, the assortment of those spending the night is unique. From Naga students who were heading to Bangalore for jobs, to groups of CRPF Jawans who were heading to Delhi to report to their new companies after a transfer, all of them now face the prospect of endlessly waiting at the Guwahati station till train traffic is restored.
"My daughter has to get admission at a college in Mathura, and she has an important exam on the 27th. It is a question of her career, I don't know what to do," said a disgruntled passenger.
Another told us that left with no option he had to buy an air ticket for Rs 16,000.
A host of trains coming to Guwahati have been stopped at railway station bordering Assam, mostly in West Bengal's Jalpaiguri district. Many passengers here complain that even basic facilities like water are not available in these trains.
Railway Minister Mukul Roy says he has spoken to Home Minister P Chidambaram seeking enhanced security for the passengers who are stranded midway.
"It is a matter of serious concern and I have spoken to Home Minister P Chidambram asking for more security for passengers and train movement", Railway Minister Mukul Roy told reporters.
Mr Roy said that he also spoke to Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi following the disruption of rail services.
With no end in sight to the tension in Kokrajhar, it seems the woes for train commuters will continue. Till now, 32 people have died and over one lakh people have been rendered homeless following clashes between two communities in Kokrajhar district of Lower Assam on July 19. There is no official word on what triggered the violence but dispute over land may have been one of the reasons.
The violence has slowly spread from Kokrajhar down to Chirang with reports of arson filtering in from these districts. Additional security forces have been deployed across the disturbed areas. Night curfew has been clamped at several places. The police has also issued shoot-at-sight orders in Kokrajhar.
The epicentre of the clashes, Kokrajhar, falls under the Bodoland Territorial Administered Districts (BTAD). So even though the Home Department of the state government is responsible for law and order, it is the autonomous district authorities who control the situation on the ground.
Assam has had had a history of ethnic clashes with the worst being witnessed in the nineties in Lower Assam and the North Bank of Brahmaputra that saw more than two lakh people from all communities being displaced. While some have returned to their homes, others are still languishing in relief camps.
In 2008, violence erupted again, with inter-community clashes claiming lives and destroying property.