Rioters and police fought gun battles in India's Assam state overnight, wounding more people in ethnic violence that has killed at least 36 people and forced tens of thousands to flee their razed homes, police said on Wednesday.
The police warned violators would be shot on sight to enforce a curfew as they struggled to contain clashes between Bodo tribes people and Muslim settlers in the remote northeast of the country, next to Bangladesh.
But the threat appeared to have done little to stem violence in three of the state's districts. Police have complained they are ill-equipped to deal with roving mobs that are armed with guns, machetes, clubs and rocks.
“Nobody is following any curfew,” said Sanjeev Kumar Krishna, a police official in Chirang district, which is one of the affected areas.
“People are still walking out on the roads, huts are being set ablaze,” he told Reuters by phone.
Shops and businesses were shuttered and streets deserted in the violence-hit Kokrajhar district, a Reuters reporter travelling to the area said. Dozens of soldiers staged a march on the outskirts of the main district town, also called Kokrajhar, carrying red flags, to try to instil confidence among locals.
But the area was deserted and there was no one tending the surrounding rice paddies although it was the sowing season.
A senior Assam police officer, who declined to be quoted by name, said the death toll from the violence had risen to 36.
Road and rail connections to the affected areas have been severely disrupted. About 100 trucks loaded with grain on their way to the state's main city, Guwahati, were left stranded on a highway.
Blood on the streets
Ringed by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, India's northeast 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 anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment against settlers from mostly Muslim Bangladesh.
The latest violence erupted just days after floods killed more than 100 people and left at least 400,000 homeless in Assam.
“The firing between police and rioters are still taking place,” S.N. Singh, Inspector General of Police, Assam, told Reuters by phone.
“We realize the gravity of the situation when we see blood stains on the roads and surroundings. We are trying our best to control the situation,” said Singh.
Bodos have felt marginalized in their homeland by waves of immigration from Bangladesh since the 1950s. Muslims make up about 40 percent of the state's population and form a majority in some districts. The Bodos feel neglected by the central government and accuse the non-tribal majority of Assam of exploiting them and letting the flow of immigrants continue.
In 1983, at least 2,000 people, mainly Bangladeshi immigrants, were killed in clashes in central Assam.