Kharjan is mourning. Pall of gloom hangs over the village in Assam's Tinsukia district after three children were killed when a grenade-like object they were playing with exploded on Wednesday, Jan 9.
Assam Home Secretary GD Tripathy said, a schoolboy was killed on the spot and two children who were injured died while being taken to hospital.
"The blast took place near a lower primary school at Kharjan near Digboi today (Wednesday). A schoolboy, who received critical injuries in the blast, is being treated at a local hospital," Tripathy said. A detailed report on the incident was awaited, he added.
About 550 km from Assam's capital Guwahati, Digboi is known as the state's oil township where crude oil was first discovered. The deceased children have been identified as Rupesh Kurmi (5), Rimpi Kurmi (10) and Sandhya Kurmi (5). Puspanjali Kurmi (7) and Bhanumati (25) were injured in the blast.
Police said the blast could have been caused by a grenade which went off accidentally. A police officer said the four children found an object hidden in a drain and were playing with it when it suddenly exploded. "The object was kept in a gunny bag in the drain by the father of one of the deceased. We are yet to ascertain if someone had asked the girl's father to keep the explosive there or he had done so unknowingly," he said. Police suspect hands of anti-talk faction of ULFA behind the planting of the grenade.
The tragic death of three children in terror related incident is not new in Assam. Many like them have been killed in the decades in the state.
The worst incident of violent death of children happened in 2004, when a group of 17 school-goers were killed in a bomb explosion at an official Independence Day function at Assam's Dhemaji town on Aug 15.
"That was a horrific incident. The militants purposely targetted the Independence day function as a lot of school children generally participate in such events. It is sad that because of violence, Assam is losing many young lives. It is a pity that we have failed to save our children," lamented popular Assamese poet Samir Tanti.
"It seems that the state has no future as its children are not safe. I ask the government to ensure safety of our children," said Guwahati-based sociologist Anima Guha.
There are no official estimates about the number of children killed in either insurgency or ethnic riots in Assam.
Assam has long been a cauldron of violence triggered by insurgency and ethnic clashes since the state's first rebel group, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), was formed in 1979.
"An estimated 25,000 people have been killed and hundreds more maimed for life since 1979," said a senior state police official.
According to figures available with the Assam police, as many as 450 explosions had occurred in the state between 2002 and Jan 2012.
A total of 1000 civilians have been killed in these explosions, mostly triggered by ULFA, added the official.
"Moromi was a bundle of energy and spirit. I still cannot believe that my daughter is dead," said Moromi's mother Sunita, 32.
Moromi was the only child victim of multiple bomb blasts which shattered Guwahati in Oct 30, 2008.
"Why did they kill my daughter? I had a dream for her to be a doctor. But her death ended everything in my life," said Sunita, whose husband was also killed in the blast.
Death claimed Moromi and her father Sagar, a carpenter in Guwahati, when he was taking her back from her school, Dispur Government Junior Basic School, at Ganeshguri, one of the areas bombed here.
At least 81 lives were lost and over 300 injured when 12 coordinated blasts rocked Guwahati and western districts of Barpeta, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon on Oct 30 afternoon.
Children have paid a heavy price in Assam as terrorism reared its ugly head in the state since 1979. Not only thousands of children died in terror-related episodes in the state but many became orphans after they lost their parents in episodes of violence.
A normal childhood in Assam is a dream for every child growing up in the north-eastern state. And those who have grown up seeing the horror of terror unfolding in front of them, life is no less a nightmare.