Ethnic violence erupted in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, leaving 32 Muslim villagers dead and prompting an exodus of the area's Muslims.
Armed Bodo separatists fired indiscriminately at Muslim settlers in three different attacks over Thursday, May 1 and Friday, May 2, 2014 in the Kokrajhar and Baska districts. The victims included children.
In one of the attacks, dozens of homes were torched before the gunmen opened fire.
Hundreds of Muslim villagers were seen fleeing with their belonging to nearby villages. The authorities tried to control the situation by calling in the army and imposing a curfew.
The Bodo tribe, which speaks the Bodo language, has long accused Muslims of sneaking into India from neighboring Bangladesh. The rebels belong to faction of the outlawed armed separatists group National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which wants a sovereign Bodoland for the Bodo people, who represent 10 percent of the population in the state of Assam.
Not only Muslim migrants, but also Hindi-speaking migrants from other states of India have also been targeted. In January 2014, seven civilians were killed by suspected National Democratic Front of Bodoland militants. They stopped four night buses coming from different parts of North Bengal, dragged out 13 passengers, lined them up and opened fire.
Journalist and blogger Habib Siddiqui provides some background on the conflict:
The Muslims that live in Assam are not immigrants from Bangladesh. Like many others, they have been living there for centuries, and at least before the time of Indian partition into Pakistan and India. Simply because of their Muslim identity and Bengali root, they are perceived as outsiders or new settlers in hateful Assam, which had her bloody history of pogroms against Muslims.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah suggested there was a connection between Prime Minister candidate for the Bharatya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance Narendra Modi’s recent speech criticizing Bangladeshi immigrants in India and the unprovoked killing of Muslims in Assam.
On Twitter, U.S.-based nuclear engineer Tanvir Salim explained the possible political motivation behind the attacks:
In Assam Muslim groups believe their community has come under attack because the rebels feel that it did not support Bodo candidates. Shame!
— Tanvir Salim (@TanvirSalim1) May 3, 2014
User Dipankar questioned the Bodo tribe's tactics:
The Army is there all over Assam, yet we have this gruesome carnage in Baksa. Why is d Bodo movement losing its way in anti-Muslim violence?
— Dipankar (@Dipankar_cpiml) May 3, 2014
Rohit Vats argued the violence had nothing to do with religion:
Usual suspects trying to give anti minority color to Bodo- Muslim clashes; religion is irrelevant to debate. Case of ethnic versus outsiders
— Rohit Vats (@KesariDhwaj) May 3, 2014