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As Tensions in India Turn Deadly, Some Say Officials Ignored Warning Signs

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The New York Times
Recent clashes in Kokrajhar reflected years of tensions.
So why, critics ask, were the authorities caught by surprise despite clear warnings of impending conflict?

“The district authorities should have seen the tension building up and acted sooner to prevent the kind of violence that we have seen since,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
The Bodo tribe in the finger of land between Bangladesh and Bhutan has long been feeling squeezed by Muslim Bengalis immigrating from Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. In addition to having less communal ideas about land ownership than the Bodos, the Bengalis, whose numbers are growing, increasingly threaten the Bodos’ dream of having an independent state.

The Bodos, many of whom have been converted to Christianity, now represent just 10 percent of Assam’s population of 31 million, but have ancestral claims to roughly half of its land.

Four years ago, Bodos and Bengalis, who speak different languages, clashed in Assam, leaving 70 people dead. Tensions began to build anew on May 29, when a local Muslim youth group called for a strike in Kokrajhar to protest the removal of a signboard from a mosque. A series of drive-by killings followed until generalized violence exploded on July 19.
State officials said they were caught unaware. “We had requisitioned the army on the very first day, but it took four, five days for the forces to reach the state,” Tarun Gogoi, chief minister of Assam, said Friday at a news conference.

U. G. Brahma, a former member of Parliament from the region, said police and other government officials did nothing to stop the violence for several days. “This is a deliberate act of negligence,” Mr. Brahma said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Gogoi said no further violence had been reported for at least two days, although bodies from earlier outbreaks continued to be found and homes were still being burned.

Mr. Gogoi rejected the charge that the government was slow in its response and said he had no intelligence before the rioting suggesting the need for troops. Such riots have been part of India’s history since its violent birth in 1947, but its roots go back far longer.

Indians’ genetic variability is vast. Scores of languages are spoken, 15 of which appear on the nation’s currency. The Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist religions are all strongly represented.
And then there is the issue of land, a scarce resource in a nation of nearly 1.2 billion people.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited two relief camps in Kokrajhar on Saturday. He called the fighting “a blot” on India, The Associated Press reported, and promised to provide $3,600 to each family of those killed and $900 to those seriously injured.
Sultan Alam, a member of a Muslim student group in Assam, called for an inquiry by the nation’s top law enforcement agency. “The minority community here has been ruined by the violence,” he said in a telephone interview, demanding more benefits for Muslims. “We just want our rightful share in everything.” A representative of a rival Bodo student group could not be reached for comment.

Opposition lawmakers accuse the Congress Party, the dominant party in the governing coalition, of turning a blind eye to the immigrant issue, since Muslims tend to support the coalition.

Vijay Goel, general secretary of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said the influence of Muslim immigrants in elections had grown too great. “We want the illegal immigrants to be identified and deported,” he said, according to news media reports.
At the news conference, Mr. Gogoi said politics played no role in his decision making and blamed his political opponents for the violence. “The situation has flared up because of the N.D.A. regime,” he said, referring to the National Democratic Alliance, an opposition coalition that includes the Bharatiya Janata Party. “It is not me who is playing vote bank politics. I do not need a single vote of the illegal migrants.”
Bengali Muslims have been a significant part of Assam’s population since India’s founding, and separating the recent arrivals from those who have been in the state for decades would be difficult. Each side in the conflict has long-held grievances.
Ms. Ganguly said the state should have done far more in recent years to ease tensions. “This is a battle over resources, not religion,” she said.
Mr. Gogoi promised action.“The only solution to these waves of ethnic conflicts is development, and tomorrow the state government will seek some kind of development package from the prime minister,” Mr. Gogoi said Friday, joining a long line of state officials seeking more money from India’s central government.

Malavika Vayawahare contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Samrat from Mumbai, India.

Press Release

It is planned ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Assam

Mumbai- July 26. A group of NGOs met in Mumbai on July 26 to assess and discuss the recent communal violence in Assam and Uttar Pradesh. The social and educational NGO leaders have strongly condemned the Assam violence in which Muslims have been subject to a planned ethnic cleansing. They urged the central government to immediately take strong and decisive action to control the burning of Muslim villages and killing of members of the community as the Gogoi-led state government is virtually failed to protect its innocent citizens. The community leaders have termed ‘tagging Indian citizens who have been living in Assam for centuries as “illegal immigrants or Bangladeshi settlers” most unfortunate’.

Maulana Mahmood Ahmad Khan Daryabadi, general secretary All India Ulama Council, Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi, director Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre, Mr. Farid Shaikh, president Mumbai Aman Committee, Dr Azimuddin, president Movement for Human Welfare, Mr. Haroon Muzawala, Trustee Khair-e Ummat Trust and Maulana Ejaz Khashmiri have also said that the growing incidents of violence against Muslims in Bareilly, UP, Rajasthan and in other parts of the country are a cause of great concern for the minority community. They along with all present NGOs members unanimously expressed their deep sense of distress at the growing incidents of communal violence against Muslims and urged the government to take urgent steps to prevent such cases and book the culprits under the law.

The NGO heads have also decried the unbalanced reporting by some media houses in the Kokrajhar – Dhubri violence which are deliberately trying to show the Muslim victim as “illegal settlers”. They said some media reporting are far from the truth and biased. When Muslims were attacked, killed and driven away from their homes by the same Bodo tribal in 1993-94 Kokrajhar riots, they got to settle in other places with government permission – by the time they have built their villages. But later following the declaration of Bodo Territorial (Autonomous) Council (BTC) an outcry is raised that these Muslims are newcomers on the land and thus afresh ethnic cleansing is launched to avail maximum area for BTC.

The speakers pointed out that these riots are a recurrence of those that happened in 1982-83 at Nelli and 1993-94 in Kokrajhar. They urged the central and the state governments to take urgent steps to halt such communal flare ups which cause untold suffering to the local Assamese Muslims. Muslim NGOs have strongly demanded that the riot victims who have been ousted from their villages be rehabilitated in their original villages. It is time to find out a permanent amicable solution to the Assam’s citizenship problem sooner than later, argued the Muslim leader in their press statement.

Issued in favour of public circulation and publication.
Director: Markazul Ma’arif Education & Research Centre (MMERC)
Patliputra Nagar (Masjid)
Oshiwara, Jogeshwari (West)
Mumbai – 400102
Tel: 022 26798538 /26771618 (9820760545)

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