11/03/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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In Assam terrorism rooted in ethnic problems and unemployment

Fr V M Thomas, a Salesian priest and executive director of the Don Bosco Institute in Guwahati, explains the reasons behind the escalating violence and the explosions. Last Thursday’s blasts also hit Christians.
(AsiaNews/Agencies) – Last Friday’s terrorist attack in Guwahati (Assam) struck Christians as well. The city’s first Baptist Church established in 1845 was destroyed and a number of clergymen were hurt in the blast. Christian-owned shops and homes were gutted in fires. Altogether on 30 October 16 bombes went off around Assam, killing 70 people and injuring another 300. No one has claimed responsibility for the massacre.

In order to understand what might lie behind this violence, AsiaNews has talked to Fr V M Thomas, executive director of the Don Bosco Institute in Guwahati.

What is behind these events?

I call it ‘Black Thursday’, a deadly and coordinated terror strike that killed more than 60 people and injured another 300. It was one of the worse terrorist attacks in our country; especially in the North-East.

I have been here for 35 years but I have never seen anything like it. The terrorist group behind this thing is smart, competent and quick.

What do you think are the underlying issues?

Here motives are always ethnic, but in this specific case, there something mysterious. It is hard to identify the culprits because no one has actually come up and said: “We did it.”

The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) had denied any involvement. It could be the HUJI (i.e. the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, a Bangladeshi-based Islamist group) or someone inspired by the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence).

At present, the state is being polarised, there are inter-ethnic conflicts, and illegal immigrants are coming from Bangladesh.

The government has not been sufficiently vigilant to manage these problems.

How did we get to this point?

I have lived in Assam for 35 years, and can say that there is social breakdown. Assam is rich in natural resources and full of beautiful eco-systems. A range of communities live along the mighty Brahmaputra. People used to be tolerant and lived harmoniously with nature and one another.

But over the years the social structure has started to break down. Goodwill, mutual trust and tolerance have sadly been replaced by suspicion among people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

The issues of illegal migrants from Bangladesh and the resentment against this influx have undermined Assam’s social fabric. Bitterness, alienation and quarrels have grown. Ethnicity has come to define conflicts; charges have been levelled at New Delhi for exploiting the state; and language and border disputes have developed. Al this has contributed to the present–day tensions.

We Salesians are respected by the state administration and the population because through our educational ministry we have taken peace initiatives. But there is work to be done for peace and development.

Young people are especially frustrated. There are no industries and the infrastructure is inadequate. Corruption is widespread; so is unemployment.

Both people and industry need security. No one will dare invest here because of the turmoil caused by its many problems.

For example, yesterday we were supposed to inaugurate the Don Bosco University but were forced to move the ceremony to 5 December because of the bomb blasts.

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