Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Tragic aftermath of Assam's bombs

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Guwahati

The blast site at CJM Court in Guwahati on Friday
Ulfa separatists are accused of killing people at random (Photo: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee)

It was his youngest son's marriage next week and Rama Das was out in Guwahati's crowded Pan Bazar with his whole family to buy Assam silk and gold.

"Just then a car exploded right in front of the silk shop. The other vehicles in the parking lot caught fire and it was hell. I got up and found my daughter in a pool of blood," Rama Das recalls, as he stands in the hospital to receive his daughter's body.

Ram Das's son, Animesh, is weeping profusely, unwilling to go ahead with the marriage now because his sister is among the dead.

"How can I accept this?" is all he has to say.

'Scarred forever'

Pan Bazar in the heart of Assam's main city, Guwahati. It was one of the several places hit by car bombs on Thursday.

Padma Hazarika lies in a bed in Guwahati's MMC hospital, listless and distraught, his face in bandages.

Women mourn the death of loved ones outside the Guwahati Medical College hospital
The bombs have brought unprecedented misery and suffering

He escaped death at Ganeshguri, site of the second blast in the city and the deadliest of the car bombs used on Thursday.

"But my face will be scarred forever and so will be my memory," Hazarika, a small trader, told the BBC.

Similar stories from survivors can be found in abundance.

"I was sitting in my room in the deputy commissioner's court when an explosion ripped through our car park. I felt the heat and fire on my back despite the thick wall and in a moment, it was all chaos," says CK Bhuiyan, a state government magistrate.

Six of the bodies in the car park, mostly of lawyers and small traders, have been charred beyond recognition and may have to be sent for DNA testing to establish their identity.

'Spread terror'

"We have seen explosions in Assam for nearly 30 years now, but these blasts were different. Never has Assam seen such devastation and death in a single day," says forensic expert Padam Pani, who has closely analysed explosions throughout the insurgency.

Assam map

Mr Pani says that those involved in the blasts were clearly trying to send a message across - that they would stop at nothing to spread terror.

"For the first time, we saw sights resembling those from Iraq and Afghanistan. Scores of bodies strewn all over, many more seriously wounded, cars burning and all that," says senior says Assamese journalist Samudragupta Kashyap.

"The scale and magnitude of these blasts were different from all those we have seen before," he says.

But so far police in the state have shown no inclination to blame international terror groups for blasts across the state that have left more than 70 dead and many more injured.


"We are certain that local separatists, the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa), were behind the explosions," said senior Assam police official Ghanshyam Murari Srivastava.

"They have been triggering explosions for a while - maybe not on this scale - but no other group has the organisation and manpower to co-ordinate this kind of an offensive here in Assam."

He said that as the Ulfa has lost armed fighters in clashes with security forces or because of large scale desertions, it has resorted more and more to the use of explosives.

In the last six years, Mr Srivastava said, Ulfa has been responsible for at least 11 major serial explosions across Assam.

"But this time, they seemed determined to kill people, not just spread panic - and kill people at random, regardless of whether they were Assamese or not. This is new," said Mr Srivastava.

Soldier at Pan Bazar
It looks as if Assam faces dark days in the future

The Ulfa has denied any involvement in the explosions and blamed Indian intelligence agencies for masterminding them to "defame our movement for independence."

Experts say that such denials are not unusual.

"On previous occasions, Ulfa has set off explosions and denied them all the time. Why should the government engineer explosions and lose support of the people?" asks academic Nanigopal Mahanta.

He argues that the Congress government in Assam has come in for severe criticism for failing to control the violence - and this may cost them votes during India's forthcoming parliamentary elections.

Public anger after the explosions - especially in Guwahati - is a pointer to that.

Hundreds of angry locals attacked the police and the fire services after the explosions, accusing them of being slow to respond to the devastation.

Police baton charged the angry mobs and fired in the air to stop them from going on the rampage.

These are dark days indeed for the beleaguered people of Assam.

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