Assam violence (File photo courtesy of Gospel For Asia)
India (MNN) ― The beauty of India's Assam state is belied by its bloody history.
Ethnic and religious violence in that region has forced the military to respond and impose a curfew after days of rioting.
At least 50 died and hundreds were injured in the clashes that lasted a week and a half--clashes between Muslim settlers and the Hindu-leaning Bodos. The Bodos are one part of three larger indigenous secessionist movements.
Although the issues that lead to conflict are complex, Danny Punnose with Gospel For Asia simplifies what's been going on there. "There's always tribal fighting between tribes, or land disputes. This is a very common thing up in the northeast part of India in those areas. But the violence is getting a little more severe where people are actually being killed and there's rioting happening. So the army has been called out to give a sense of security, but also a sense of protection."
Stories of Muslim-Hindu violence spread like wildfire through social media outlets, which also sparked panic that led to days of more rioting. Government officials had been trying to encourage people to ignore the inflammatory stories, to no avail. Punnose goes on to say that "there are rumors that violence is going to break out there because there are lots of Assamese workers and students down in the south." As the trouble had been escalating and spreading, thousands who were from the Northeast fled the southern city of Bangalore last week.
Nearly 400,000 people are in makeshift camps, displaced by the escalating fighting. In the meantime, curfews have been imposed in some areas. "Everything [comes] to a standstill. It's the only way to contain certain elements of the violence," says Punnose, adding that those who violate curfew risk their lives. "They think that you are part of the underground, or the underground thinks you're part of the army, so you're caught in the crossfire."
In some areas, curfews have been relaxed to certain hours. Although the violence seems to have calmed somewhat, it would take very little to ignite uprisings. Issues are deeply polarizing. Punnose says until the uneasy calm can be trusted, much of their work is also at a standstill.
Solutions won't easily be reached, he goes on to say. "It's very, very deeply ingrained. It's not just the caste system: it's tribal, and it's land. It's so many levels of the dynamics of this, and then you've got violence and you've got strikes."
GFA is asking for prayer. "Pray for the leaders of the nation to have wisdom to know how to handle this. You're not talking about people just being upset with each other. This is thousands of years of ingrained prejudice and animosity and anger."
Although their teams can't get out, Punnose says they are readying themselves for response. "Pray that God would give us opportunities to share the love of Christ, whether it's praying for people or counseling people, or maybe it's relief work to help people get back on their feet."
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