Ethnic violence in India's northeastern state of Assam, which has left at least 80 dead and 200,000 displaced so far, has continued to spread panic across India, including southern Indian cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad where people of Northeast origin feared a backlash.
The ongoing violence in Assam was triggered when four men from the Bodo community were killed in Kokrajhar district July 20 allegedly by Muslims who were seeking revenge for the attack on two student leaders from the community. However, the tensions stem from an underlying fact that the Bodos, who earn their living through agriculture, feel they are being deprived of their land due to the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi Thursday appealed to people from northeastern states who are residing in other parts of India to refrain from heading home in panic.
"I appeal to students and other persons especially those who are in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, that they should not get panicked and (not) rush back. Rumor mongering is on, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has personally talked to the chief ministers of the two states to ensure security," Gogoi said in Guwahati, Assam.
He said a ministerial team would visit the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh Friday while assuring that the situation was normal.
Gogoi's appeal came in the wake of reports that northeastern students and professionals living in cities across India were rushing back home after receiving threats.
Some northeastern students in Bangalore were reportedly receiving threatening messages on phones while doctored photos were being circulated on social networking sites to spread panic. The central and state governments said attempts were being made to identify the rumormongers, Indian media reported.
Karnataka state authorities dismissed reports of a mass exodus of people, saying the two special Guwahati-bound trains that left Wednesday had people traveling for a long weekend on the eve of Muslim festival of Eid.
In Mumbai, a rally to protest the killing of the Muslims in Assam and neighboring Myanmar spiraled out of control Saturday, leaving two people dead and over 65 injured.
The demonstration at Azad Maidan, jointly held by three Muslim organizations, drew a massive crowd of nearly 20,000.
"Around 2.30 pm, some men pulled out provocative pictures of people being killed in Assam," Arup Patnaik, commissioner of police, Mumbai, was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
At least 10 buses were vandalized, four police cars and three media vans burnt in the ensuing violence despite the police trying to take charge of the situation.
Meanwhile, India's National Commission for Minorities (NCM) warned of the possibility of the Muslims in strife-torn Bodo districts of Assam turning "militant," due to the presence of militant outfits across India.
The commission said the clashes were "not between some exodus of Bangladeshi immigrants and the Bodos but between the Bodos and the resident Muslims" of the BTAD or the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts under the jurisdiction of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).
The Bodoland Territorial Council was created in 2003 to fulfill the economic, educational and linguistic aspirations and the preservation of land-rights, socio-cultural and ethnic identity of the Bodos and to speed up the infrastructure development in the BTC areas. The council's jurisdiction extends over thousands of villages and has the legislative powers over 40 subjects.
Since its inception, the BTC has faced severe opposition from non-Bodos, who allege that Bodos would create trouble for non-Bodos living in areas under the council's jurisdiction.
"The conflict was unequal because the Bodos had leftover arms from the Bodo Liberation Tigers. The Muslims are very poorly armed in comparison," the Minorities Commission said in the report, as reported by the Hindu. "There can be grave danger in future in case militant jihadi outfits from the rest of the country start supplying lethal weapons in this area."