KOKRAJHAR, India--Escalating ethnic violence in northeastern India between minority Bodos and Muslims has left more than 80 people dead, forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to flee their homes.
On July 24, Muslims from a neighboring village rampaged through Bodo homes in Bamungaon, near Kokrajhar, in the western part of Assam state.
They attacked houses with bamboo spears and set them alight with kerosene, according to eyewitnesses.
Before the violence flared, residents of the two communities had cordial exchanges and would attend festivals held in each village.
"I cannot believe such a thing happened," said Laharam Wari, 32, near the ruins of his home built four years ago.
Only a few men remain in the village because the women and children have taken shelter in refugee camps.
In Assam state, an estimated 480,000 residents were temporarily displaced at one point.
Muslim villages have also been attacked by Bodos.
In an incident on July 22, Dir Mohammad Mandol, 40, said Bodos firing at random injured four people in his village, also near Kokrajhar.
"We hope that we can live with them," said Mandol, who has evacuated to a refugee camp with his four family members.
According to state authorities, two Muslim men were killed in a village near Kokrajhar on July 6. Muslims blamed Bodos, although the victims were killed by unrelated extremists.
Tensions escalated after two Mulsims were shot and injured on July 19. A clash between the two communities started after four Bodos were killed the following day.
By Aug. 23, the conflict had left 88 people dead and 70 injured.
Bodos, mainly Hindus, are an indigenous people in northeastern India. Many live in the state of Assam.
According to a 2001 census, Bodos represented 5 percent of the state's population, while Muslims accounted for 30 percent.
Bodos say illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh are behind the confrontation.
"Illegal immigrants have found their way close to the northern border with Bhutan," said Anjali Daimari, 48, president of the Bodo Women's Justice Forum.
Muslims deny the claims.
Abdur Rahim Ahmed, 29, president of the All Assam Minority Students' Union, said the refugees are all Indians.
Ahmed said Bodos are persecuting members of other ethnic groups to increase their percentage in local population.
Some 480,000 people, both Bodos and Muslims, evacuated to public facilities in urban areas in late July. About 260,000 still live in camps and other facilities.
Slayings and other acts of violence continue although troops have been deployed.
What started as a local conflict is spreading nationwide, and the government is trying to contain the fallout.
In the western city of Mumbai, two people were killed when Muslim sensitivities spilled over into a mob mentality at a protest rally on Aug. 11.
People from northeastern India, who resembled Bodos, were attacked in nearby Pune.
Rumors of possible attacks have prompted 50,000 people from the northeastern region to return from the southern city of Bangalore and elsewhere.
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