As the sun was setting over the low forested hills and farmlands of the northern districts of Assam on December 23, armed militants in military fatigues, their faces masked, walked into small and remote adivasi hamlets to carry out a chilling series of coordinated attacks. Residents in these hamlets, at five locations in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Sonitpur districts were mowed down by indiscriminate firing from what were reportedly automatic weapons. More than 70 people, including at least 18 children and 21 women, were killed in a matter of minutes.
The armed intruders burned down and ransacked several of the mud hutments in these hamlets before retreating into the jungles. In retaliatory attacks the following day, at least 5 Bodos were murdered and several homes gutted. In Sonitpur district, a protest demonstration taken out by adivasi political groups in Dhekiajuli was fired on by the police with three deaths and several injuries. In Udalguri, a protest demonstration taken out by adivasi youth was set upon, resulting in injuries on both sides and an atmosphere of tension.
Initial reports about the number of the displaced were wildly contradictory. Kokrajhar was clearly the district worst affected in this respect. News reports datelined December 25 and attributed to the Deputy Commissioner, Kokrajhar, put the number of the displaced at 25,000 in that district alone. On December 28, the figure was scaled up to 100,000 in all four Bodoland districts, Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang. The following day a very precise figure of 176,440 was put out as the total number of the displaced, of which 101,272 were identified as adivasi and 61,000 as Bodo. The greatest incidence of
displacement was in Kokrajhar, where an estimated 100,000 had fled their homes. On January 1, the number was revised upwards yet again to 236,349 in all four districts, of which again the largest part by far was in Kokrajhar, where 197,189 persons were sheltering in 81 camps for the displaced.
It seems finally from the inquiries of this team, that roughly 300,000 left their homes in the aftermath of the first attacks and the retaliation. A large number may have gone back soon afterwards, but as the harsh winter days and nights passed, the district administration did have to reckon with human displacement on a major scale. At the time that this fact-finding team met the Kokrajhar Deputy Commissioner on January 10, the numbers had begun to shrink. Of the initial displacement of close to 200,000 he said, fewer than 71,000 remained in camps within his jurisdiction.
This team visited camps for the displaced in Kokrajhar district and villages that had been targeted in Sonitpur. We found the inmates deeply traumatised and profoundly insecure. Desperately impoverished and defenceless to begin with, the targeted and displaced adivasi communities in particular stand in dire need of security assurances they can rely on.