Azim Ali Sar (Nalbari), Oct. 19: Poor mobie network, no active police presence, lack of database of its residents and the difficult location – Dispur faces numerious challenges to bring approximately 2,300 sars (sandbars) under police radar and check the “growing threat” of fundamental forces in the state.
Assam director-general of police Mukesh Sahay travelled in a boat and reached Azim Ali Sar, nearly 50km west of Guwahati, yesterday and spent the night here as part of the state police’s action plan to counter the fundamentalist “threat”.
He left for Guwahati at 5am today.
Mobile phone network played hide and seek as the Assam police team left Kaplabori ghat for the sar in three motorboats.
“Is the wireless phone okay?” Sahay asked his officers. “Yes sir, we are connected with Bhanganmari police station,” replied the officer, making it clear that there was nothing to worry even if network was down in the sar.
A little over one-and-half hours of sailing upstream of the Brahmaputra, about 20-25 village defence parties and residents of the sar waited for Sahay and other senior police officers.
“How many people live here?” Sahay asked. “About 2,000 here and it will be around 1.5 lakh in all the 17 sar villages,” replied Pasan Ali Ahmed, a village defence party member.
“Do you have the list of the residents?” No, came the reply after a few seconds’ silence. “Do you know if anybody possesses a gun?” “No…no sir,” the villagers replied in unison.
About 500 people waited about 200 metres away near a tent on a raised platform where Sahay not just addressed them but also spent the night.
Ahmed’s is among the 29 defence party teams (each comprising at least 10 people) who keep tabs on the 17 sars under Bhanganmari and Kuriamari Sialmari police stations. “We form groups and make rounds at night as robbery is rampant here. We also intervene if we come across any illegal activity and inform the police station,” Ahmed said.
Sars in Assam are suspected of being “den of illegal migrants” from Bangladesh but recent arrests of more than 40 members of Jamat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a fundamentalist group, in Nalbari and busting of opium cultivation on a few sars in neighbouring Barpeta district prompted the new BJP-led government in the state to bring the sars under increased police surveillance. In fact, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on September 30 instructed Sahay to visit the sars and work out a policing plan to check “fundamentalist elements”.
“When the neighbouring country (Bangladesh) is on the boil (owing to fundamentalists), we can’t just sit idle. We need to increase surveillance in the sars and strengthen river policing. We need to understand the problems here and sensitise people about the problems happening in many parts of world,” Sahay said, hinting about the violence carried out by fundamentalist groups.
With sars still away from police glare and reports that JMB members in the state are targeting the unlettered residents there for indoctrination towards their “objective”, keeping an eye on the sars has turned out to be a daunting task for the state police. “We need more manpower and increase capacity of our river police by giving them more boats and better training. I only came to know now that many youths from here are working outside, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. We will collect details of those people so that we are aware who is doing what,” Sahay said, minutes before he asked the sar dwellers to inform the police about “outsiders” visiting them.
Police officials claimed that interrogation of arrested JMB members revealed that members of the group from Bengal were using unregistered private madarsas for indoctrination. In fact, Riajul Haque Choudhury, a teacher in a private madarsa here, was arrested a few months ago on the same charge.
“There are two government madarsas in Azim Ali Sar,” said Sonabar Ali, another resident. There are several private madarsas but the villagers are unaware of their numbers.