GUWAHATI, India - Hostility against immigrants and Muslims moved to India's northeastern state of Assam with deadly violence between indigenous tribes and Muslims, sending thousands of people to flee their homes for protection.
We have decided to control the situation with a firm hand," S.N. Singh, a spokesperson with the Bodoland autonomous region, told the Press Trust of India on Tuesday, July 24.
We have issued shoot-at-sight orders and clamped indefinite curfew to contain the growing violence following fresh incidents in various parts of the state.
Sectarian violence erupted Friday after four youths were killed by unidentified men in the isolated Kokrajhar district.
In retaliation, armed men from Bodo tribes attacked Muslims for suspicion of being behind the killings.
Clashes spread to the neighboring Chirang and Dhubri districts over the weekend, leaving at least 22 people dead.
Thousands of people were also left homeless as their villages were set on fire in the violence.
"Incidents of arson and violence were reported overnight from several places with the death toll now put at 22," Hagrama Mohilary, head of the Bodoland Territorial Council, a local government body, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
"The situation is tense and volatile and we want more security forces, especially reinforcements of army soldiers."
Local television channels broadcast pictures of several homes that had been set ablaze by rioters.
"Police, army and paramilitary troopers have intensified patrols and a 24-hour, indefinite curfew has been imposed," Assam Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said from the worst-hit district of Kokrajhar.
Surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, Assam is home to more than 200 ethnic and tribal groups and has been racked by separatist revolts since India's independence from Britain in 1947.
In recent years, Hindu and Christian tribes have vented strong sentiments against Muslim immigrants, especially those from Bangladesh.
Escape for Life
Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence.
The security forces were silent spectators when village after village was burnt down, veteran local politician Urkhao Gwra Brahma told Reuters.
This morning I thought the situation would become normal, but I was wrong. Violence again started. It is really out of control.
Donald Gilfellon, a senior civil servant in the Kokrajhar district, said about 50,000 villagers have fled their homes and taken shelter in relief camps out of fear since then.
Thirty-seven camps had been set up to help the refugees and that more would be opened if needed, he added.
Schools and government buildings are getting over-crowded. More and more people are coming, we have given up counting, said another district civil servant, who requested not to be named.
Businesses, offices and schools remained closed, and streets were deserted in Kokrajhar town as heavily armed security men patrolled on foot and in mine-proof vehicles.
We can't think of going back home, resident Hiranya Musaharay said by phone from Kokrajhar town where he was staying with relatives.
Our village is vulnerable to attacks and the government failed to give us protection.Muslims account for 160 million of India's 1.1 billion people, the world's third-largest Muslim population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.