Little relief for Assam violence victims

Elderly Bodo woman sits in a relief camp in Assam Tens of thousands of people have taken shelter in relief camps

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Last week's ethnic violence between the Muslims and tribal Bodos in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam displaced tens of thousands of people and left more than 50 people dead. The BBC's Suvojit Bagchi reports from one of the Bodo relief camps.

Royat Narzary, a Bodo boy in the Shotokendrabil relief camp in Kokrajhar district, says the current outbreak of large-scale religious violence in western Assam was preceded by several smaller incidents over the past few weeks.

"In the third week of July, four Bodo boys were killed, two Muslim boys were shot at before that and a few weeks earlier there was another incident between us and them," said the 12-year-old boy.

At the heart of Assam's troubles is a debate over the so-called "infiltration" by "outsiders" which has led to ethnic tension between the state's indigenous Bodos and the Bengali Muslim migrants.

Fear in the air

Relief camps for the displaced have been set up in school buildings and the victims - both Muslims and Bodos - are spending their days without food or medicine and have limited access to clean drinking water.

12-year-old Royat Narzary, a Bodo boy in a relief camp in Assam Royat Narzary remembers minor incidents of violence before large-scale clashes began in Assam

And fear hangs heavy in the air.

"If anyone is killed now - Muslim or Bodo - both sides will blame each other without checking the assassin's identity or motive and that may spiral into another riot," manager of Shotokendrabil camp Taqdeer Basumatary said.

No camp has any day-time security and there is little patrolling at night.

So while women and children take shelter in the relief camps, men patrol the borders of their villages.

The two communities have developed rota systems to guard their villages and are in constant touch with their respective youth wings - who may provide some armed resistance if needed.

The two communities, who for years have been shopping in the same market, sharing rituals and gossip, have suddenly turned against each other.

"The reasons for that are multiple and complex," said Digambar Narzary who works for a non-governmental organisation in Kokrajhar.

"The settlement of illegal migrants in the forest areas could be one of many issues," he said.

'Hatred factor'

Muslims are also "used" to weaken the Bodo demand for a greater tribal Bodoland.

"It is true the Muslims are opposed to a tribal homeland but who instigated them?" asks Mr Narzary.

"The Muslims have been used in a planned manner to obstruct the legitimate demand of the Bodos by Assam's political elite," said prominent Bodo activist in Kokrajhar, Janaklal Basumatary.

Bodo tribal man stands in debris of his burnt house in Mojati village at Kokrajhar district in Assam The two communities that lived side by side for years suddenly turned on each other

"We fear there would not be a place for Muslims in a Bodo state that is predominantly for the indigenous people of western Assam," said Muslim student leader Moinul Haque.

Mr Haque denied that they were instigated to start the violence.

For now, non-governmental organisations say the need is to provide "food, clothes and shelter" to riot victims.

But a shortage of funds is crippling relief work.

Activists are also worried that the "hatred factor" between the two communities may impact their relationship in the long term.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the riot-hit area over the weekend, representatives of the two communities submitted their separate memorandums to him.

In their memorandums, they used virulently acerbic rhetoric to blame each other for "triggering" the violence.

The state administration, however, feels the situation has been brought "under control" quite fast.

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