A top official in India’s remote northeast appealed on Friday for an end to ethnic violence that has killed at least 48 people and left nearly 400,000 homeless in the past week.
The clashes between ethnic Bodos and Muslim settlers in Assam state have spread fear among both groups, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
“This is a time for everybody to appeal for peace so that people see sense and normalcy is resumed,” Gogoi told reporters in the state capital, Guwahati.
Tensions between the groups have long simmered, but the riots are the worst bloodletting since the mid-1990s.
The killing of four Bodo men last week sparked the violence. Soldiers have orders to shoot rioters on sight, a curfew is in effect in most areas and army soldiers have marched through the worst-hit areas in a show of strength to stop the violence.
Despite thousands of troops on patrol, covering all of the 10,000km2 has proved difficult, Assam police chief J.N. Choudhury said.
Arson attacks were reported again on Friday in the worst-hit districts of Kokrajhar, Dibrugarh and Chirang, he said.
The relief camps, overrun with fleeing survivors who have escaped with only a few of their possessions, are ill-equipped and most have no food, drinking water or medicines. Villagers in the safe areas have helped provide some food and water to the camps.
Gogoi said that with the worst of the violence under control, the government would now turn its attention to ensuring that the camps get adequate relief material.
At the heart of the violence is a fight over land as well as lack of representation of non-Bodos in local government, according to Monirul Hussain, a political scientist at Gauhati University.
Bodos are a majority in the Bodoland Territorial Council, an autonomous administrative body that oversees the districts with the worst violence.
“This is an unequal arrangement leaving the non-Bodos totally alienated,” Hussain said.