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India: Ethnic Clashes in Assam

Fighting between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers in the Indian State of Assam killed at least 32 people and wounded many more. The trouble started on the night of Friday 20 July, 2012, when unidentified men killed four youths in Kokrajhar district, which is dominated by Bodos.

In retaliation, armed Bodos attacked Muslims and burnt their villages, suspecting them to be behind the killings. According to news sources Indian paramilitary forces have opened fire on rioters and a number of people have been killed by them.

About 70,000 villagers of Chirang, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Udalguri and Sonitpur have fled their homes since the violence started and taken shelter in relief camps. At least 60 villages belonging to both Bodos and Muslims in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts were ransacked or burned.

Around 20,000 passengers were stranded on trains in Assam region as 21 trains had been cancelled because the protesters occupied the tracks and threw stones at the trains.

Homes burn in the Barmanpara village in the Kokrajhar district, about 230 kms from Guwahati, the capital of the state of Assam. Image by Aman. Copyright Demotix (24/7/2012)

Homes burn in the Barmanpara village in the Kokrajhar district, about 230 kms from Guwahati, the capital of the state of Assam. Image by Aman. Copyright Demotix (24/7/2012)

The Bodos constitute 5% of the total population of the state while Muslims constitute nearly 33% of the population. Bodos are seeking a separate political identity, which range from autonomy to separate state and even sovereignty.

15.64 per cent of the 20.33 million population in Assam are from tribes including Bodo, Mising, Rabha, Sonowal, Lalung (Tiwa), Deori and Thengal (Mech). Assam has three autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule and several other groups are demanding their own autonomous councils under the same status.

The opposition BJP party blamed “illegal immigrants” for the violence and termed it communal. However the Assam police chief mentioned that these clashes are more ethnic than communal. According to him the clash is between the Bodo tribe and the non-minority groups, who are mostly Muslims whose ancestors settled in the region 40, 50 or 60 years ago.

Robbie S writes:

Both the government of Assam and of India need to continually acknowledge that this violence is beyond communal identities, it is rooted in the chronic underdevelopment of northeastern India.

Hisham Barbhuiya at Youth Ki Awaaz looks at the myth of “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” in Assam, who are time and again blamed for any such incident. The blogger writes:

During the British period, Muslims from East Bengal districts of Mymensingh and Rangpur were brought in to cultivate lands in the districts of lower Assam. They were settled in the ‘char’ areas or the riverine districts and the surrounding areas of Dhubri, Barpeta, Goalpara and Nagaoan. Many of them later integrated into the Assamese culture and were called the “new Assamese”.

Villagers flee their homes in the Chirang district, Assam. Image by Aman. Copyright Demotix (24/7/2012)

Villagers flee their homes in the Chirang district, Assam. Image by Aman. Copyright Demotix (24/7/2012)

Arunangshuwrites:

The Bodoland agitations are always violent and the ethnic rivalries are renewed in streams of blood and fire. One wonders why people become so violent and why they remain so much underdeveloped.Its a pity really because the entire Northeast is so beautiful.

Here are some of the Tweet reactions:

@arpitade: Bloodbath, misery and fear on both sides. Who is winning here? Not humanity for sure :-( #Fury #AssamRiots http://t.co/xBUvSURU

@nitinchatterjee: And I can't fathom as to why it's not in the headlines.”@timesofindia: Assam riots toll rises to 32; more than 70,000 flee homes”

@supreetha15: Ask all the media persons you so follow: Why no Assam??? Tag them, pin them down. Show them the Social Power. @janlokpal Let truth prevail.

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