Guwahati: In seven days from now, on Independence Day, the Assam government hopes that the four lakh people packed into 250 relief camps will return to their homes. Ask any of the families who are living in squalor at these camps and they will tell you that is not the case.
Many have no homes to return to. Entire villages were wiped out in Assam's worst communal violence in more than a decade. Those whose homes survived the cycle of attack and revenge between the Bodo tribals and Bengali-speaking Muslim settlers don't believe they will be safe outside the schools and colleges that have been turned into shelters.
They are not paranoid. On Monday at 11 pm, a group of 30 men appeared in the Raniguli village, just 30 kms away from the main Kokrajhar town, which functions as a sort of capital of this part of Lower Assam.
The men came from the hills; they opened fire; three people, sitting on a bench, were killed. Two others are struggling for their lives in hospital. A few minutes after their mass-shooting, the gunmen disappeared. Raniguli is now a ghost town - every single family has escaped to relief camps nearby, pointedly skipping the one whose wall borders a section of the village. On the phone , the Assam Home Secretary, Gyandendra Tripathi, said forces had secured the village today. But at 10 am, there was not one policeman or security officer visible.
The Army, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force are all meant to be on guard to prevent more clashes - 60 people have died in the last month. But last night, there was nobody to protect the innocent. In parliament tomorrow, the BJP will seek an explanation from the government. Among the lapses acknowledged so far is a nearly five-day delay by the army in responding to the first calls of help from the Assam government.
The relief camps offer dangers of their own. Diseases are spreading quickly. Five children have died in the last few days. Many are diagnosed with malaria. There are just 117 doctors available for the 400,000 inhabitants of the camps. Many of the doctors travel with police escorts from one shelter to another. They say they have run out of supplies -all they have now for patients are generic medicines for a cough or cold. "Even 1500 doctors would not have been enough," one says.