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- Nava Thakuria

Assam is not the land of insurgents alone. The north eastern state has also given birth to numerous protesting voices against insurgency. After the fateful Dhemaji blast, which killed 13 women and children on August 15, 2004, the land of the philosopher and socio-religious scholar and reformer of the 15th century Srimanta Sankardev, witnessed hundreds of protest rallies, demonstration and meetings against the brutality of United Liberation Front of Assam, who had taken the responsibility of Dhemaji blast. Protesting against the inhuman act, All Assam Students Union (AASU) had called a dawn to dusk Assam Bandh on August 18, which was preceded by local Bandhs in upper Assam districts.

Lately it was the turn of the creative artists of Assam to express their anger against the misdeeds of the banned armed outfit. While veteran film maker of Assam Jahnu Baruah dedicated his latest film 'Tora' to the little children, who lost their lives in Dhemaji incident, eminent Assamese artist Noni Borpuzari created an acrylic painting with the theme of the victims.

Expressing his anguish over the killing of innocent children, celebrated filmmaker Jahnu Baruah had dedicated his award winning children film 'Tora' to those departed little souls. The ninth film made during his illustrative career, 'Tora' had been declared as the best Children's Film at the 51st National Film Awards declared the previous day of the Dhemaji blast. 'Tora' brings the award in this section for the first time in the 79 years history of Assamese filmdom.

"Being an Assamese, I am ashamed of the heinous, inhuman and cowardly act of the militants. Dedicating 'Tora' to those children whose lives had been cut short, I like to share my sorrow and sadness with the bereaved families in particular and the people of Assam in general," said Jahnu Baruah.

A print maker of international repute Noni Borpuzari felt restless and agitated as soon as he heard about the incident of Dhemaji, where ULFA cadres triggered explosive on the parade ground of the Independence day celebration.

"It was so shocking, while I could learn about the blast that killed at least nine children," told Mr. Borpuzari. Then he decided to pay tribute to the departed souls with his creation. A theme took shape. Then he starts painting on the canvas to visualize his unrevealed agony and aggravation. And 'The Silence' is born. The left out sandals with a doll scattered on the blast site draws immediate attention of the viewers, where the tricolours are lying on the green field unattended. The red dominated canvas narrates the horrible consequences of the senseless activities of the under ground outfit, who is fighting for an independent homeland in Assam.

Simultaneously with these protest rallies, demonstration and meetings a group of Guwahati based artists added their colours to a huge canvas to express their combined protest against the cruelty of the insurgents. Over twenty eminent artists of Assam including Neelpawan Baruah, Noni Borpuzari, Pulak Gogoi, Deven Tamuly, Ajit Seal, Aminul Haque, Jabin Ghosh Dastider, Simantajyoti Baruah, Devananda Ulup, Rajkumar Majinder, Minakshi Borgohain had rubbed their soldiers on August 25 at Latasil playground in the city for the show. While the visual artists were busy painting, the personalities from the film fraternity and literature like Keshav Mahanta, Dilip Sharma, Sudakshina Sharma, Abdul Mazid, Nipon Goswami, Biju Phukan, Gautam Borah, Pranjal Saikia, Jubin Garg, Jayanta Das, Ashok Kumar Bisaya, Bani Das joined in paying floral tributes to all those killed in Dhemaji blast namely Montu Gogoi (10), Girin Saikia (12), Manjit Gogoi (13), Siddharth Taid (12), Smt. Chitrawati Doley (23), Smt. Dhananda Gogoi Deuri (28), Dinesh Padun (15), Jayanta Padun (13), Aruna Saikia (20), Bijit Sonwal (12), Rupa Saikia (13), Smt. Namita Gogoi (25) and Manashi Buragohain (15). Women and children in audience then went to the bank of the mighty river Brahmaputra at dusk and paid tribute to the departed souls by floating 'Diya' (oil lamps).

"The people all over the state have now blamed ULFA leadership for their activities, who however enjoyed mass support till the last few years. Expressing distress on the August 15 killings, all section of the society have come to the streets raising their voices loud and clear against the insurgents," said eminent cultural personality Keshav Mahanta.

The banned ULFA tried to prevent the people from making more protests in post Dhemaji blast period by spreading terror through triggering as many as nine blasts that killed at least 15 people and wounded over 40 others in different parts of Assam. Then the outfit tried to divert the attention of the people by reiterating its demand for "Ganabhot" or plebiscite on sovereignty of Assam. In a lengthy e-mail message written in Assamese with dateline of August 29, the ULFA political chief Arabinda Rajkhowa claimed that they had possessed all relevant argument and documents for demanding a "Ganabhot", whether the people of Assam want independence or to remain with India. He was of the view that the administration took the victims of Dhemaji blast as the shield and he tried his best to justify their act in Dhemaji. Meanwhile the military chief of ULFA Paresh Baruah denied their involvement in the blast. The ULFA C-in-C argued that the Dhemaji incident was not masterminded by them, but by some other organizations 'sympathetic' to the cause of ULFA. Of course, there were few to buy his idea.

More to ULFA's worry, with the increasing heat of public protest, the post Dhemaji blast period witnesses a change of mind for the Guwahati based media while reporting insurgency in general and ULFA in particular. While reporting the fateful incident in Dhemaji, all the dailies of Assam (Guwahati witnesses 18 dailies published from the city in different languages) reported the incident as the handiworks of 'terrorists' or 'insurgents', and no way by some 'revolutionaries'. The language of the editorials on the fateful incident was harsh. The essence of the editorials were loud and clear, "Enough is enough, stop terrorism".

And the protest throughout Assam has become stronger and wider day-by-day.

* Nava Thakuria is Secretary, Guwahati Press Club