Thousands Flee Amid Ethnic Violence In India

Jul 26, 2012
Originally published on July 26, 2012 5:24 pm
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The conflict is remote, but the numbers are eye-popping. A week of ethnic violence in Northeastern India has left more than 40 people dead and around 200,000 people have fled their homes. Indian security forces sent to the area in the state of Assam near India's border with Bangladesh have had little success in ending the fighting. The conflict between the indigenous Bodo community and Muslim settlers is only the latest outbreak of violence in a long troubled region.

For an update on the riots, we're joined now by reporter Elliot Hannon in Mumbai. Elliot, good afternoon.

ELLIOT HANNON: Good afternoon, Robert.

SIEGEL: Now, accounts from the area make this sound like a sudden explosion of violence with people being attacked and homes and villages burned to the ground. How did all this start?

HANNON: Well, you know, it's a little hard to tell exactly who did what to start it, but it all began over the weekend this last weekend. Bodo youths were killed by Muslim settlers - or what they thought were Muslim settlers in the region - and they went back and retaliated and killed several members of the Muslim community.

And that really exploded into what you're seeing now. Bodies have been found with machete wounds on roadsides and riverbanks. There's been widespread violence in the area where schools and vehicles have been burned. Homes have been burned overnight, even though the security forces are there and trying to stop it and it's really - you know, it's caught everyone by surprise. I think it's escalated very quickly into what's really been the worst bit of violence between these two communities in over a decade there.

SIEGEL: But when we hear that 200,000 people have left their homes, where are they?

HANNON: You know, that's a good question. The government has set up relief camps in neighboring districts. Some of the violence has actually spread into neighboring areas where there have been reports of bands of groups with spears and guns that have been roaming the streets. So these people have left their homes - 200,000 of them - to try to get to safety.

The government has, I think, struggled to keep up just with the numbers. So far, I think there are some 30 or 40 relief camps that have been set up. They struggle to get supplies, water and food to make sure these people are safe and then can, hopefully, return home soon.

SIEGEL: How would you describe the government's response to this violence up in the northeast?

HANNON: The government has sent 6,000 security forces to try to subdue, you know, the riots. They've done an OK job of late. I think it's taken them a while to fully gain the confidence of people. Some of the refugees are still afraid to come back. The security forces have tried to restore confidence by marching through the streets in a show of power and order that it is safe for them to come back.

They've imposed a curfew, which they've struggled to maintain throughout. There have been reports of houses being lit on fire overnight and so the government is now sending more troops to try to stabilize it, but I think they've struggled to do so, actually.

SIEGEL: Elliot Hannon, reporter in Mumbai, thank you very much for talking with us.

HANNON: Thank you, Robert.



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