Fear of Coronavirus: Migrant Labourers in Assam Narrowly Escape Mob Lynching

"The mob was carrying weapons and threw bottles at us," a labourer said, adding that the local police then intervened and dispersed the crowd.

Guwahati: A group of migrant labourers from lower Assam’s Bongaigaon and Goalpara districts, working as coal loaders at Lakla in Jagun located in the upper-Assam Tinsukia district, had a “close shave” from a mob of around 100 persons carrying weapons on the morning of Friday, April 3 at a remote place where they were housed by the local police during the lockdown.

The labourers were staying at an abandoned government building at 10 Mile, which is a little distance away from Lakla, after they were denied accommodation at other places on account of ‘being outsiders’ and ‘possible carriers’ of COVID-19.

The mob from a nearby village near the abandoned building thought that the police had put the labourers in ‘quarantine’ and that they were ‘sick’ from the coronavirus. Though local police intervened just at the right time and dispersed the crowd, the group of labourers told The Wire that they “fear for their lives” as the building had no doors to guard them at night.

Shaken to their bones, the group expressed fear that the mob may come at night and “attack them”. The local police have directed them to stay in the government building till the lockdown ends.

The incident has occurred while the state is still reeling from new cases of COVID-19 that are being reported almost on a daily basis – with all the positive cases linked to the Tablighi Jamaat event at Delhi’s Nizamuddin locality.

On Friday, April 3, Assam reported four cases of COVID-19 with the state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeting, “All these four people are also associated with #NizamuddinMarkaz event taking the total number of cases in Assam to 20.”

10 Mile is around ten to twelve plus kilometres from Lakla, where the labourers were working. The ordeal of the labourers’ began on March 31 when they decided that it was hopeless to wait for the entire 21-day lockdown period as there was no work and they were running short on resources including money.

Also read: As Assam Gets First COVID-19 Patient, ‘Nizamuddin List’ Violates Privacy of Many

The group of labourers were then told that it would be possible for them to be ferried home on a truck. One of the labourers from the group was acquainted with a truck driver who happened to hail from Jogihoppa in Bongaigaon.

On the night of March 31, the group got into the truck and was able to reach Ledo where the truck ran out fuel. The local police there was then informed by someone that the truck was ferrying labourers. The police then transported the labourers back to Lakla, where they have been staying for the past couple of months.

But upon reaching Lakla, the other residents of the place, where the labourers had previously resided, refused to take them back and urged the police to take them away after claiming that “they couldn’t identify the labourers as they are new people”.

On April 1, the police took the group of labourers to a Madrassa at Tirap Gate in Lekapani where they asked authorities at the madrassa to keep them for 14 days. But the madrassa authorities told the police that they could take in the 18 labourers for one night as “people would be suspicious of sheltering outsiders”. The police then decided that the next day. on April 2, the group would be taken to 10 Mile.

Monowar Hussain, a 24-year-old labourer, told The Wire, “Within one night we became strangers and ‘new people’ to the people with whom we had stayed together. At the madrassa, doctors came and checked us. On Friday morning around 100 plus people from the nearby village surrounded the building and told us to come down.”

Hussain said that the group had been holed up on the second floor of the building. “The mob was carrying weapons and threw bottles at us. We called up the I/C sir and it was then that the police came in two cars and dispersed the crowd. The building has no functioning bathroom with no water or electricity. To relieve ourselves we have to go a stream flowing nearby. But we are too afraid to venture out. If it were not for the police, we would have surely been killed,” he said.

The labourers have since been residing at an abandoned building in an industrial area. But the building is surrounded by thick woods and the village from where the mob came is located half-a-kilometre away. The place is mere kilometres away from the Assam-Arunachal border.

Also read: Violence Against Police Enforcing Lockdown After Rules Tightened in Assam

The Wire spoke to a police officer of the local station in the area. “There were around seventy to eighty people from the village who came to the building. The villagers were afraid that we were putting sick people there. We assured them that they are not sick. Even they are afraid that they might get sick,” said the officer and added that there was no reason for concern as a police battalion camp was stationed near the building.

“We have given them [labourers] food provisions. There is no issue now as we are keeping a tab on the labourers,” said the officer.