Exodus continues, Assam mine workers return home

GUWAHATI: Kapiluddin Sheikh, the sole bread earner of a family of six, is distraught since he and 10 other fellow coal mine workers left Nangalbibra in Meghalaya's South Garo Hills district on Monday, a day after eight workers were killed by armed miscreants in the area on Sunday.

"We somehow managed to hire a car and left Nangalbibra in the evening. There was so much tension among the coal mine labourers following the killings that we couldn't risk our stay," Kapiluddin, a resident of Mancachar in Assam's Dhubri district, said.

"Leaving our place of work was a big loss for us financially. We run our families from the money we get by working in Garo Hills coal mines. But when we saw other labourers leaving the place in hordes, we couldn't muster the courage to stay behind," Kapiluddin, who earns about Rs 10,000 a month, added.

The killing of a labourer last week following rumours of rape of a mentally challenged woman and the Sunday mayhem, created panic among migrant workers. Sunday's incident triggered exodus of migrant workers and over 3,000 people have left Garo Hills since then. The exodus is still continuing.

With workers leaving Garo Hills for their homes in Goalpara and Dhubri districts, tension has mounted on the Assam side of the inter-state border too. The two districts share a border with Meghalaya and the Assam side also has sizeable Garo population.

Goalpara DC Pritam Saikia said vigil along the inter-state border areas have been stepped up. "We are working with Meghalaya government to prevent escalation of violence. Army is also on alert," Saikia said.

"We have seen many cars packed with workers from Garo Hills entering Assam on Tuesday," a police officer at Kukurkata along the Assam-Meghalaya border said.

The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), however, accused both the Meghalaya and Assam governments of creating a similar situation like that of Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in the neighbouring state. Last year, nearly 100 people were killed and about five lakh people displaced in an ethnic conflict between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims in BTAD.

"We are dismayed over the way Muslim workers are attacked and killed. While Meghalaya government failed to save lives of the workers, the Assam government has failed to ensure safety of its people in the neighbouring state," Muslim Youths Forum Against Communalism, Terrorism and Sedition secretary, Alim Ullah, alleged.