In India’s northeastern Assam state, tension between Muslims and ethnic Bodo communities reached a fiery peak earlier this week. Thousands of people have fled the violence, dozens of homes have been burned, and more than 40 people have reportedly been killed. Many of the dead were found in the forest with limbs hacked off by machetes. The government ordered rioters to be shot on sight.From the Associated Press:
Animosity and accusations of land-stealing have long simmered between Bodos and the thousands of mostly Bengali Muslim settlers, many of whom came from the former East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh in 1971. The two groups have clashed sporadically since the 1990s and burned each other’s homes and property.
In an incident eerily reminiscent of the Gujarat riots in 2002 (in which Muslim rioters set fire to a train, killing several Hindus), hundreds of rioters attacked the Rajdhani Express train last Tuesday morning, pelting it with stones and forcing it to turn back.Tension over land ownership is relatively common in India. Big resource companies frequently don’t respect the property rights of locals; immigrant groups also contribute to clashes over who owns what and how much it’s worth.If India is going to avoid the kind of tensions that led to the Gujarat riots in 2002, the authorities need to be very cautious, investigate locals’ claims of graft and land grabs, and take steps to assimilate immigrants in areas where they can live peacefully. The recent violence in Assam is a warning: past atrocities could easily be prologue to future violence.