By Li Hongmei, Special to Sina English
As India celebrated Independence Day, which falls on August 15, the nation are still grappling with the fallout from last month’s deadly riots in the northeastern state of Assam.
On Saturday, heated protests over the violence broke out in the Azad Maidan neighborhood of Mumbai, with demonstrators reportedly setting news vans on fire and attacking shops. The unrest follows days of political sparring over the Assam riots.
Since July 20, more than 70 people, reportedly 78 people, have been killed in the state of Assam in clashes between Muslims and the Bodos, an ethnic group indigenous to the region.
On July 20, four Bodo youths were killed, after which armed members of the Bodo community, holding their Muslim neighbors responsible, attacked in retaliation. Weeks later, bodies are still being found, and the hundreds of thousands of Muslim residents who fled to overcrowded, unsanitary camps are afraid to budge.
Assam’s state government has given them until Independence Day to go home but has also said it cannot guarantee their safety, as reports of armed men roaming villages continue to trickle out of the area.
Ringed by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, India's northeast is connected to the rest of the country by a narrow land strip called the chicken's neck. Home to more than 200 ethnic and tribal groups, it has been racked by separatist revolts since India's independence from Britain in 1947.
In recent years, Hindu and Christian tribes have vented strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment against Bangladeshi settlers. The Bodo tribe has clashed with Bengalis in deadly riots several times since the 1950s. Thirty years ago, about 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in riots in Assam.
The latest violence was sparked on night of July 20 when unidentified men killed four youths in Kokrajhar district, police and district officials said. In retaliation, armed Bodos attacked Muslims, suspecting them of being behind the killings.
Assam's chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, told media immediately after the July 20 bloodshed, that he hoped the situation would be under control within days. He said about 30,000 villagers have fled their homes and taken shelter in relief camps, but local officials said the numbers were at least twice that.