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How lynching of two men in Assam has ripped open old ethnic divides in the state


Guwahati, June 13: There is an old saying that "when parents die, they are buried in the ground. But when children die, they are buried in the parents' heart".

It doesn't need one to see the horrific video clips to gauge the pain buried deep in the heart of Nilotpal Das's father. Nilotpal and his friend, Abhijeet Nath, were lynched by a violent mob in Assam's Karbi Anglong district on Friday (June 8).

assam lynching

When the two young men planned their "pleasure trip" to the scenic district, they were unaware of rumours about child lifters doing the rounds in the area--that xophadhora or phankodongs (child lifters) were on the prowl. A message circulated on social media had warned the villagers that "everyone should be on guard against the phankodongs from Bihar".

According to local news dailies from Assam, the two youth from Guwahati had gone to Kathilangso waterfall area in Dengaon area under Dokmoka police station in the district. "It was late evening and seeing two youths, the locals suspected them to be child abductors and started grilling them," police said. The two young men failed to convince the mob that they weren't child lifters, because no one was ready to listen to them.

Assam is no stranger to violence and turmoil--the six-year-long Assam agitation, the Nellie massacre, secret killings and spate of bomb blasts and bloodbath in the past four decades leading to the deaths of thousands, including children.

Living under the shadow of terrorism for years -- even as rebel outfits, including the ULFA and NDFB, unleashed violence in the name of gaining sovereignty -- it is the ordinary Assamese who has had to bear the brunt of these conflicts and political alienation.

The latest tragedy has, understandably, enraged the young Assamese. But what started out as peaceful public protests condemning the mob lynching have turned into vitriolic display of anger both on the streets and social media. If the protests on Sunday turned violent in Guwahati with some of the agitated youths resorting to stone-pelting and violent sloganeering, belligerent messages on social against all Karbis have further worsened the situation.

Suddenly, the Axomiya is no longer ready to spare the Karbis. The narrative has changed to "all Karbis are the same and barbaric". Some in Nagaon district even allegedly tried to attack people from Karbi Anglong. With that, the ethnic divide between Axomiyas and the Karbis is once again out in the open.

Assam's anger against the outsiders--which was mainly directed towards the illegal "infiltrators" from Bangladesh--has now shifted to its own people, against each other, ripping open old wounds and ethnic divides.

If the Karbi is ready to kill the Assamese (the fact that the mob refused to spare Nilotpal despite him pleading to them that he is an Assamese and not an outsider); the Axomiya too is in no mood spare the Karbis.

But what both sides have to understand is that the real villain living amid them is neither the Axomiya nor the Karbi (or anyone else) , but the fear that stops us from embracing diversity--the fear of the "other". The mindless menace of violence is not going to get us anywhere.

Robert Kennedy once famously said: "What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created... No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people."


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