GUWAHATI: Police found nine more bodies yesterday after a deadly rampage by tribal separatists in India’s remote northeastern Assam state, taking the death toll to 32 following two days of violence.
The latest fighting in the area, a site of frequent ethnic clashes, began on Thursday with the killing of 11 Bengali-speaking Muslim villagers, followed by more bloodshed on Friday when 12 others were slain.
Police said it was not immediately known when the nine villagers whose bodies were recovered yesterday had been killed.
“The death toll has gone up to 32,” police inspector general S N Singh said. “Security has been further tightened with police and paramilitary troopers deployed in strength.”
The nine bodies, including those of women and children, were recovered from Narayanguri village in Baksa district, 200km west of Assam’s main city of Guwahati.
This week’s attacks come as India votes in a multi-phased general election that began on April 7. Polling winds up on May 12, with results to be announced four days later.
Voting in Assam has ended, with April 24 the last day of polling.
Police blamed the attacks on the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has been demanding a separate homeland for decades.
The violence has taken place in Baksa and neighbouring Kokrajhar districts.
Witnesses said some of the victims were killed as attackers opened fire on them while they slept in their homes.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directed Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and federal Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to “restore normalcy” in the area, while condemning the attacks.
“(My) heart reaches out and grieves for all those who lost their near and dear ones,” Singh said in a statement.
The Congress condemned the violence in Assam and blamed the BJP and its leader Narendra Modi for creating a “communal atmosphere” in the country.
Party spokesperson and union minister Kapil Sibal said at a briefing at the Congress headquarters in Delhi that “I want to, on behalf of the president of the Congress party, the vice president and the entire Congress party condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence perpetrated in Assam”.
Sibal claimed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an auxiliary group associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, started the agenda of “dividing the polity” by launching the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1984.
“The BJP embraced it and senior BJP leader L K Advani thought of the Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in 1991. On December 6, 1992, the act of demolishing the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was committed by leaders of the BJP. Nearly 500 people were killed in the Somnath-Ayodhya Yatra and after 1992, roughly 1,700 were killed. In 1995, they decided to have a similar march from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. You are looking at a pattern which is prevalent from 1984 onwards. There were Gujarat riots in 2002,” said Sibal.
Quoting from the website of Modi, Sibal said it credits the Gujarat chief minister with organising the two yatras starting from Somnath and Kanyakumari.
“Now they admit that in 1998 when they came in power, the credit goes to Modi because of Rath Yatra and march from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, which is purely a communal agenda and they admit it also that they will come to power on the basis of this communal agenda,” alleged Sibal.
He alleged that post the Gujarat riots, Modi made provocative statements against the main minority community in the state.
Sibal appealed that “people of the nation should recognise his masked face. Democracy should not be put at stake.”
The attacks have prompted security forces to launch a massive hunt for the guerillas and have spurred some 5,000 people to flee from their homes, police officer Singh said.
The officer added that an indefinite curfew has also been imposed in the violence-torn districts, with police given shoot-on-sight orders.
The victims of the attacks were Muslim migrants who have been locked for years in land disputes with indigenous Bodo tribes in the tea-growing state that borders Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Media reports said Muslim villagers were targeted as a punishment for not voting for candidates backed by the rebels.
While the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has criticised the Congress-led state government for inaction and failure to protect its people, some student groups have demanded Gogoi’s resignation.
Seventeen people were killed in clashes in the same region in January, and thousands of others fled their homes for fear of further attacks.
Survivors of Thursday’s attack in Kokrajhar district described how a group of around 20 masked gunmen had carried out the killings late at night.
“We were asleep when gunmen barged into our home and sprayed bullets, killing my elderly mother, my wife and my four-year-old daughter,” Siraj Ali told a local TV channel, as he sat beside the bodies in a police station.
“I don’t have anyone left in my family now,” Ali said.