LAL MOHAN BRAHMA COULD HEAR cries of terror rising from the fields surrounding his village. Only a short time before, after warnings from local leaders that trouble was brewing, his wife, daughter-in-law and infant grandson had fled from their four-room bungalow in Aminkhata, a village in the Kokrajhar district of north-western Assam. Brahma and his son, Mrityarj, had stayed behind to try to protect their house. Now, they could hear people shouting out threats to kill those trying to escape. Fearing for the rest of the family, as well as for their own safety, they decided to chance a flight through the forests.
About an hour later, Brahma and Mrityarj eventually reached the Gambaribil School relief camp for Bodos in Gosaingaon, about nine kilometres from Aminkhata. There, they were finally reunited with the rest of their family, who had escaped the violence unharmed. The government-run camp of almost 2,500 people, set up inside the school halls, became their home over the days and weeks that followed.
Almost two months later, Brahma and his son nervously returned home, uncertain of the devastation to which they would return. All that remained of their home was the charred framework. Brahma had worked as a tax inspector, and soon after his retirement he had invested most of his savings in a rice mill that would be a continuing source of income to feed his family. During the weeks they had spent at the relief camp, the mill had been stolen, along with everything else they owned. Then the house was set ablaze, and the life they knew literally went up in flames. Now, the surrounding village reeked of decomposing soil, and the smell of smoke was locked into their rooms by a sheet of government-supplied tarpaulin they were using to keep out the rain. It would take another two months before Brahma felt things were safe enough to return permanently, with his wife and family, to the wreckage of his village, and begin rebuilding.