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Muslims face executions in India's Assam region

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 16th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Members of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland have been killing Muslims in India's Assam district, at a time when Muslims are facing similar violent demises in neighboring Myanmar. Muslims of Bengali origin have been killed in rioting after a free-for-all in the four districts of western Assam. The Indian government has called out the army, issuing shoot-at-sight orders to control the ongoing violence.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Many are still missing and nearly 400,000 people are in makeshift camps after being displaced by the July riots.

Bodo separatist rebels have attacked Bengali Muslims over the past several years, along with other non-Bodo minorities since 1992. Their goal is to create a Bodo majority in their perceived ethnic homeland. Hundreds have been killed, the worst violence reported in 1996-97, when about a quarter of a million people were displaced.

The riots in India's northeast follow the same pattern as violence against Muslim Rohingya in neighboring Myanmar.

Those fleeing the violence have beseeched rulers to let them stay in their adopted homelands. Sixty-three-year-old Rehana Bibi begged India's ruling Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi to let her and others like her remain in refugee camps.

"We prefer to stay in these government-aided camps though we don't get enough to eat or space to sleep. But that is better than constantly living with the threat of death," Rehana told Gandhi.

Rehana was later joined by scores of Muslim women, from teenagers to the elderly, who pleaded with Gandhi not to be forced to go back to their native villages.

"Violence is still continuing in our area. We are getting to know of deaths and attacks. The government should please allow us to stay here until we feel it is safe to go back home," said Sultana, another Muslim woman.

Many remain missing and nearly 400,000 people are in makeshift camps after being displaced by the July riots.

More than 2,500 Muslims were killed in ethnic riots that erupted during a six-year long campaign by Assamese groups (1979-1985). The worst carnage took place at Nellie in February 1983, when 1,600 Muslims were killed in two days of bloodbaths unleashed by Lalung tribesmen.

India's situation bears parallels to Myanmar's Rakhine province, where Rohingya Muslims, sometimes called "Bengalis" in that country, have suffered heavy casualties in fights with Buddhist Rakhines. Most of those killed have been Rohingyas, although some Rakhines are also among the dead.

"And like in Myanmar, so in Assam, nativist passion runs high against these Muslims. They are demonized and held responsible for all the woes faced by the indigenous peoples," Samir Das, an author who has written on Assam says. "They are seen as encroachers on indigenous lands and resources."

However, Rohingya say they are indigenous to Myanmar's Rakhine province (previously Arakans), but many Burmese, including President Thein Sein, believe they are settlers from what is now the Chittagong region of Bangladesh, and say they should be taken out.

The Muslims of Bengali origin in Assam admit they originally hail from what was eastern Bengal and is now Bangladesh. Local Assamese and tribal groups, however, allege that illegal migration from Bangladesh continues unabated.

"People from what is now Bangladesh migrate to all over the world and they have been moving into Assam or other parts of northeast India since the days of the British. But what the locals are worried about are the growing numbers of the descendants of these Bengali Muslim settlers and their rising influence in the state's agrarian economy and politics," Assam political analyst Nani Gopal Mahanta says.

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