JNN 29 July 2012 BIJNI, India : The death toll from ethnic unrest in India’s northeast State of Assam rose to 50 on Saturday while at least 400,000 languished in relief camps as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the conflict-hit area.
Indian authorities on Thursday rushed more troops to quell ethnic violence in a remote northeastern state where dozens of people have been killed over the past week and villagers are frightened to return to their burned-out homes.
Clashes between members of the ethnic Bodo community and Muslim settlers in Assam state have left 42 people dead and 13 others missing, state officials said. Six of the 42 were killed by security forces, who were given a mandate Tuesday to shoot rioters on sight.
The killing of four Bodo men last week sparked off violent attacks by Bodo tribespeople on Muslim villages.
More than 90% of the Bodos living in Assam are Hindus. However, the percentage of Christians is growing. In 1991, only 8.58% of the Bodo were Christian. The amount had increased to 9.40% by 2001. Similarly, the percentage of Hindus decreased from 91.13% in 1991, to 90.31% in 2001. Only a few Bodos still believe in their Animist religion
Hundreds of homes were torched and more than 200,000 people fled their homes for relief camps set up in schools and government buildings.
The death toll climbed to 50 as police reported in a statement that the bodies of five more people killed in the riots had been recovered.
On Thursday, Assam’s Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi met with Bodo and Muslim leaders in an effort to defuse tensions and restore peace, while the federal government ordered more troops to be sent to the three worst-hit districts, Kokrajhar, Dibrugarh and Chirang.
Singh, who represents Assam in the Indian parliament’s upper house, was slated to tour relief camps on Saturday accompanied by ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi.
A curfew has helped curtail the violence, but local officials said the situation remains tense. Police reported sporadic violence in Chirang as armed bands of Bodo youth roamed the deserted villages.
People in the camps have said they were afraid of returning to their homes.
Gogoi has blamed Singh’s government for the escalation in violence, saying it failed to send troops immediately after the unrest erupted.
Soldiers have orders to shoot to kill arsonists and a 24-hour curfew is in place, said G. D. Tripathi, Assam’s home secretary.
There are already 6,000 army and paramilitary soldiers on the ground. They have marched through towns and villages in a show of force to give residents confidence to return to their homes.
Thousands of frightened villagers are crammed into about 125 relief camps hastily set up by local administrators.
Each day there is a scramble for limited water and food. Harried officials are trying to provide food, clothes and mattresses for the streams of people who have lost all their possessions.
Among them is a dazed-looking Laily Begum, a mother of three small children. On Sunday, Begum’s Muslim husband was hacked to death by sword-wielding attackers near the town of Bijni in Chirang.
“I don’t know if I should be mourning my husband or fighting for food for my children,” she cries, tears snaking down her face.
Begum fled with her children and from a distance saw the attackers repeatedly stabbing her husband, Mohammad Hasen Ali. Her neighbors told her his body had been thrown into a river.
On Thursday, the Assam government announced that 600,000 rupees ($11,000) would be paid as compensation to the families of those killed.