Villagers affected by ethnic clashes receive food at a relief camp in Tinsuti village, in Sonitpur district in Assam on Thursday. Image Credit: Reuters

Kolakata: The fight between Bodos militants and adivasi (tribals) in Assam last Tuesday that claimed 78 lives most of whom were women and children has put West Bengal on tenterhooks.

A red alert has been sounded in the seven northern districts of the state, even as thousands of refugees, mainly adivasi (tribal), continued to cross over to West Bengal on Saturday seeking refuge in Alipurduar district. The Indian Army has beefed up security along the West Bengal-Assam border to ward off Bodo militants who failed to flee to Bhutan.

Tension prevailed in several of districts of the state, which have a sizeable adivasi population, in the aftermath of the violent episode. This is the second incident of large-scale violence in lower Assam this year, after the communal riot between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims in May, which left several people dead.

In 1998, there was an ethnic riot between the Bodos and adivasis, but for the past several years, the two tribal communities have coexisted peacefully. In spite of the skewed demographic composition and political polarisation, a non-Bodo, Naba Sarania, was elected from the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency in May.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was in North Bengal, said, “The Assam violence is no less in magnitude compared to the terror attack in Peshawar. All refugees coming from Assam will be given shelter at relief camps in our state.” Banerjee visited two of the four refugee camps opened near Kumargaon in Alupurduar district on Saturday. The camps, barely ten kilometres from the interstate border, are located at Changmari, Salbari, Haldibari and Balapara.

The state government has directed the district administration to arrange for tarpaulin, blankets, food and medicines for the victims of the violence. Also, several families that work in the tea gardens in West Bengal are sheltering refugees from Kokrajhar. The government camps are being stretched to the limits on account of the huge number of refugees pouring into the state from across the Assam border. A majority of the refugees are sub alterns, several of whose relatives were killed in the carnage in Kokrajhar district of Assam.

Tribal organisations in six north Bengal districts had called a strike on Saturday to protest against the attack and killing of adivasis by National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in Assam. The strike began at six in the morning and essential services were exempted from its purview, Adivasi Vikas Morcha state president Birsa Tirkey told Gulf News. The protest was peaceful, he said.