The gunning down of a sixty-year-old trader and his young daughter at Pengeree in Tinsukia district has ignited a storm of protest by Hindi-speaking organisations spearheaded by the Bhojpuri Yuva Parishad. Protesters have roundly denounced the ULFA(I) for the attack, prompting the outfit’s military chief Paresh Barua to issue a threat through the media of ‘serious consequences’ for protesters if they do not apologize forthwith. Barua claims ‘no such report has reached our headquarters’ of ULFA(I) cadres carrying out the attack. About the killers reportedly heard conversing in Hindi, Barua has pointed out that his cadres ‘do not speak Hindi’. Be that as it may, the animosity between the ULFA C-in-C and Hindi-speakers go back a long way. In its nearly four decade long armed struggle, this outfit has often targeted Hindi-speakers. Many poor, toiling Hindi-speakers have fallen to the ULFA’s bombs and bullets. This has led to a steady exodus of Hindi-speakers from the State, a sad loss of human capital. Their places were in due course taken over by economic migrants from Bangladesh, with portentous implications for the future of Assam and the Assamese identity. Significantly, the ULFA has never spoken out against the continuing migration from Bangladesh.
Not just Hindi-speakers, indigenous communities too have been victims of the ULFA’s violent ways. Those labelled as ‘counter-revolutiories’ or ‘agents of Indian government’ have met gruesome deaths. Quite a few who contributed to the development of Assam were elimited by ULFA hitmen. When ULFA president Arabinda Rajkhowa and some top compatriots, after coming overground, visited some of the victims’ families — they had no answer to the painful questions these families posed. Not just the ULFA, other militant outfits like NDFB(S), KPLT and DHD have held the State to ransom at different times. Those injured in militant attacks and kin of the dead, have come together to form platforms, speaking out forcefully and protesting against the rule of the gun. The Assam police has now identified the three ULFA(I) militants responsible for the Pengeree attack, provoking Hindi-speaking protesters in Tinsukia to dare Paresh Barua openly. If the ULFA C-in-C takes it upon himself to retaliate in bloody fashion, the State is in for another round of disturbance which will do no one any good. It was interesting to hear Barua’s former comrade-in-arms Mril Hazarika comment before television cameras that ‘while killing Hindi-speakers was once employed as a pressure tactic by the ULFA, it is bad that this has now become a policy’.
Mowing down innocent, defenceless people desperately eking out a living, is repugnt through and through. The more such soft targets are hit, the more a rebel outfit loses its aura. Fighting for a ‘sovereign Assam’, the ULFA is now but a shadow of its former self, even though the State’s security apparatus continues to be wary of its potential to create mischief. The Assam police DGP has accused the ULFA(I) to be behind the Pengeree attack, which its military commander has denied. But Barua has neither bothered to speak about the reprehensible ture of the attack, nor about who he believes to be responsible for it. Is there a deep-seated political conspiracy to get Hindi-speakers targeted so that the Centre replies with crude, ham-handed force, resulting in further alietion of other indigenous communities? Instead of issuing threats, Barua should have made it clear that his organisation has not become a pawn in a deadly political chessboard. But this he has not done. Meanwhile, an atmosphere of distrust is building up in the aftermath of the Pengeree attack. A number of student and youth organisations have now taken offence at the way some Hindi-speakers’ organisations cast aspersions on indigenous people while staging protests. This is an unfortute development, to say the least, and must be nipped in the bud.