Ethnic and communal violence spreads fear throughout India

By August 20, 2012

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
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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