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Communal violence errupts in Assam: The Church of England Newspaper, September 2, 2012 p 1. September 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, NGOs.
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Communal violence in the North East Indian state of Assam has claimed the lives of approximately 75 people and displaced over 400,000 people after fighting erupted between Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and the predominantly Hindu and Christian Bodo people.

The Church of North India in conjunction with the Lutheran World Service India trust, Churches Auxiliary for Social Action and other Christian NGOs has asked for assistance to support the refugees housed in 270 relief camps across Assam.

Press reports from India state the violence erupted on 20 July after four Bodo youths were killed in a fight with Bengali immigrants.  Bodo tribesmen retaliated by attacking Bengali settlements and the violence then spiraled out of control.  Hundreds of villages are reported to have been looted and over 5000 homes destroyed.

Friction between Bengali immigrants and Bodo tribesman has grown in recent years and is not the first time the two groups have come to blows.  In 1993 2000 people were killed in sectarian clashes, and in 2003 the government signed a peace deal with Bodo militants giving them autonomy over the four districts.

On 24 July the Indian Federal government responded to the sectarian violence by dispatching troops to the troubled districts, which are part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s parliamentary constituency.  A dusk to dawn curfew was imposed on 26 July and the army ordered to shoot looters on sight.

Prime Minister Singh visited the riot torn area last week and said the central government will closely work with the Assam state government to ensure the people’s safety.  He also announced the government would send approximately £12 million to rebuild homes destroyed in the fighting and to compensate the families of those killed in the fighting.

On 15 August the Indian government announced it had lifted the state of emergency and said it would close the refugee camps.  However, church aid agencies report that many of those living in the refugee camps have become ill with dysentery and twenty-two people have died so far in the camps, while around 8,000 children are sick, according to government figures.

Many also now have no place to go.  “Most of the displaced fled with nothing,” says Zubin Zaman from Oxfam India. “Sanitation has to be stepped up with better hygiene practices, access to clean water and more toilets. There is also a need for bedding, clothing, mosquito nets and tarpaulin sheets.”

Survivors say they cannot live in such conditions, but add that it is better than dying at the hands of armed mobs.

“We do not want to live like this, but we will not go back. The security forces cannot protect us. They cannot be there 24 hours a day, guarding us,” says Barendra Brahma, 70, a retired school teacher in a camp in the town of Kokrajhar.

“I was born in that village. If I go back now, it will only be to die,” she told Relief.Net.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

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