Namtola (Assam-Nagaland border), Dec 9: It's almost business as usual, in this border town, except that the shops which dot its main street are flying black flags. The coming Christmas joy is blanketed by a sense of uncertainty with the noisy chatter of shoppers replaced by hushed whispers.
The tiny township of Namtola in Assam's Charaideo district, the last point before entering Nagaland, wears a sombre mood, a clear sign of how a tragedy that unfolded nearly 50 kms away from it and across the inter-state border has cut across geographical and linguistic lines. "Business has been down since the beginning of the pandemic. But after the firing incident, it has simply nosedived," said Ranu Dey who runs a grocery store here.
Some 13 coal miners were killed Saturday, in a botched counter-insurgency operation in Oting village of Nagaland's Mon district and another died in rioting which followed the next day at the district headquarters. Follow-up violence by the army in Oting in Nagaland's Mon district on December 4 and 5. An army personnel was also killed on Saturday.
While shoppers for Christmas ware may be few and far between, make-shift shops selling black flags hoisted on small wooden poles are drawing sizeable number of customers. All private vehicles in Nagaland have been flying black flags since Tuesday as part of a week-long mourning for the Oting victims and the traders at Namtola are making a quick buck selling these.
Dey, hailing from Lumding in Hojai district, said, "I sold quite a few of these flags on Wednesday. It's not a happy business for me, but it is bringing in the much-needed cash and besides people want it." Several stores like Dey's displayed the black flags prominently outside their stores as vehicles entering Nagaland bought them off quickly. "Yesterday (Wednesday), these were priced Rs 10, but today its Rs 20," complained a biker who bought one from Dey before crossing the inter-state border.
The food stalls were also ringing up brisk sales as footfalls from outsiders have multiplied by the dozen since the incident. "Though the site of incident at Oting is in a different direction, most people, be it government personnel or media persons, have to visit the district headquarter Mon and pass through Namtola. As there are not many food stalls here once you cross the border, people prefer to grab a quick bite here," said Sanjay Sharma, who runs a small hotel with his wife here.
"The Christmas rush is missing. But some extra bucks are coming in because of this unfortunate incident," Sharma, who had left his home in Bihar three decades ago, added. Bipin Baruah, who sells tea and breakfast to the morning crowd in nearby Sonari town, echoed Sharma and said, "
Since lockdown, business had been really down. These few days we have been getting a few extra customers." A local youth activist, sipping a cup of tea at Baruah's stall, added, "There are about seven-ten hotels with accommodation facilities. And all have are full these last couple of days."
"We have lost our brothers across the border. Nothing can take away that pain. But it's true anywhere in the world that such tragedies also bring attention and business for the local community," he added.