Wails of pain for Assam blast victims

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS

Guwahati : Four-year-old Mafizul was writhing in pain at a hospital in India's restive northeastern state of Assam – his arms and legs heavily bandaged with blood stains visible from outside the cotton gauze.

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Little Mafizul is oblivious of the fact that his five-year-old sister Hanifa was no more – both of them victims of a powerful explosion at a crowded market Saturday in Assam's main city of Guwahati.

Six people, including an infant, were killed in the blast and 11 wounded – the explosive strapped to a parked bicycle near the Machkhowa market.

A few more women and men were lying in hospital beds – all blast victims, some of them hit on their faces, abdomen, and lower limbs – wails of pain echoing the four walls of the hospital ward.

"I cannot move my body, it pains. I cannot hear properly and am unable to even drink water," Mafizul told IANS with a traumatised expression as his father Anwar Hussain watches with a dazed look. Lying near Mafizul, five-year-old Maina is struggling for survival – also hit by the explosion – and doctors said she was yet not out of danger.

"These mindless bombings perpetrated by militants are leading the state to nowhere, everybody is perturbed. Such acts of violence are nothing but inhumane and barbaric," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS Sunday.

The oil, tea, and timber-rich state, bordering Bangladesh and Bhutan, is gripped by a bloody insurgency that dates back to 1979 with the formation of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), an outlawed rebel army fighting for an independent homeland.

Assam was rocked by at least 30 explosions so far this year – most of them in crowded markets with police blaming the ULFA for the attacks. The outfit, however, denied Saturday's blast in Guwahati.

"It appears there is no existence of a government in Assam the way bombings are going on in the state. This is a low-intensity war and the worst sufferers are the common people. Everyone here is a loser," said Sammujjal Bhattacharya, advisor of the All Assam Students' Union.

The ULFA is also blamed for killing about 80 people in January, 60 of them being Hindi-speaking migrant workers.

"Is this the way the ULFA wants to attain independence by killing innocent people?" an angry Minoti Das, a middle-aged housewife in Guwahati, who lost her husband in a blast two years ago, asked.

The spectre of violence is also severely affecting business.

"The recent serial blasts in Assam have caused a loss of Rs.10 billion in terms of running business in the state," Vijay Gupta, member of the Coordination Committee of Different Trade Associations and Chambers of Commerce, said.

The economic loss apart, the violent insurgency has led to hundreds of people suffering long-term damage to their physical health and mental well-being.

Priyam Gogoi is still woken by nightmares of her three friends lying in a pool of blood in a landmine explosion on the Independence Day (Aug 15) in 2004.

Gogoi, a Class 9 student, saw gory scenes of 20 people killed and about two dozen wounded in a powerful blast during the Independence Day parade in Dhemaji, a town in eastern Assam. The ULFA had owned up the blast.

"I frequently come across images of dismembered faces of my three friends who died and also many more who were maimed for life," Gogoi said.

A peace process aimed at bringing the ULFA for talks collapsed in September last year with New Delhi accusing the rebel group of stepping up violence and extortion in Assam.

"We want this bloodshed to end. It is people like me who would understand the pangs of violence…others would simply forget," Anwar Hussain, the man who lost his daughter Hanifa in Saturday's explosion, said.