GUWAHATI: Eight years after a bomb blast shattered her life, 55-year-old Ruby Baruah gets strength and hope by nurturing her late husband's dream - an English medium school in Assam's Nalbari town.
The school, 60 km from Guwahati, was founded by her husband Pranabesh in 1998. Pranabesh was killed in a blast triggered by the banned outfit United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) near Nalbari on Feb 27, 2000.
"After my husband's death I was clueless as to how to support my children. Then I took over the reins of the school. I am happy that I am now managing the school well and taking care of my children as well," said Ruby, putting up a brave face.
The story is not an isolated one. It is repeated in thousands of households in the state.
According to the figures available with the Assam Police, as many as 423 explosions occurred in the state between 2002 and January 2008. At least 928 civilians have been killed in these explosions, mostly triggered by ULFA, added a police official.
Sunita Sharma, 28, is yet to overcome the shock of losing her husband, Sagar, in last Thursday's serial bomb blasts. Yet she has no option but to take up her husband's vocation, carpentry.
"In order to take care of my two children, I have to work in his workshop now. I am completely distraught after my husband's death. But, as I have to look after my children, I have to carry on with my life," a sobbing Sunita said.
Sagar was killed in the Ganeshguri market here, one of Thursday's bomb blast sites. At least 81 people were killed and over 300 injured when 12 coordinated bombings in Guwahati and western districts of Barpeta, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon rocked Assam.
There is no official estimate about the number of women who have lost their husbands or children orphaned in insurgency or ethnic riots in Assam.
"An estimated 25,000 people have been killed and hundreds more maimed for life since 1979," said a senior Assam police official.
Assam has long been a cauldron of violence triggered by insurgency and ethnic clashes, since the state's first rebel group, the ULFA, was formed in 1979.
Ruby Baruah rued that in spite of promises made by the government to help her financially, she has received no aid.
"Initially I visited a few government officials and ministers to get my dues. But nothing materialised. I have lost all hope of getting any help from the government," she said.
Wasbir Hussain, political commentator and director of the Centre for Development and Peace Studies, a Guwahati-based think-tank, in his award-winning book "Homemakers without the Men" has brought to light the plight of Assam's terror widows through real-life narratives.
"The book, through real life stories, narrates the struggles of Assamese women who have lost their bread winning partners to insurgency or ethnic strife. Through the book Hussain has brought out the pathos, trauma, struggle and challenges of these remarkable women," said Guwahati-based sociologist Anima Guha.
"The government has to support these women and help them financially to support their family. Women and children of Assam have been the most affected lot in the orgy of violence unleashed by the terrorist outfits for three decades," said Guha.