Assam: Villagers protest the killings of four Muslim traders in Baksa

Baksa, 14 July-2014, WSJ: Tension mounted in India’s northeastern state of Assam as hundreds of villagers took to the streets to protest the killings of four Muslim traders whose bodies were found over the weekend, state police officials said.

Assam: Villagers protest the killings of four Muslim traders in Baksa

Assam: Villagers protest the killings of four Muslim traders in Baksa

Indian security personnel patrolled a remote area on the bank of the Beki River in Khagrabari village in Baksa district of Assam state, India, 03 May 2014. European Pressphoto Agency

On Sunday, police officials fired rubber bullets and used batons to break up protestors who violated a curfew and beat up a police officer in Assam’s Baksa district, Vinod Seshan, a district magistrate in Baksa, told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

As the army and paramilitary forces stepped up patrols in the area, the protesters retreated to their homes, officials said. “The situation is under control. A curfew is in place in some areas to ensure nothing untoward happens,” Mr. Seshan said. The army also has been “put on high alert,” he said.

The four Muslim men, identified as lemon traders, went missing Friday from a village in Baksa district where they had traveled to sell their goods, said Lajja Ram Bishnoi, a police official in Assam. The body of one man was found on the bank of the Beki river, while the three others were spotted in paddy fields, he said.

All the bodies had severe head injuries, Mr. Bishnoi said. He said no arrests have been made because it’s “not yet clear” who might have been responsible. “We have launched a massive investigation to find out the motive behind the killing and those involved in the crime,” Mr. Bishnoi said.

State police said they suspect that a faction of a separatist group, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, may have been responsible for Friday’s kidnappings. The Bodoland organization, which seeks an independent homeland for the Bodo, an ethnic group, denied responsibility.

India’s northeast region, which is home to more than 200 ethnic groups, has been troubled by separatist rebellions for more than five decades. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland has three factions, two of which are engaged in talks with the state government for a peaceful settlement to the conflict while the third is pursuing an armed struggle.

The Bodo group’s aspirations for autonomy has led to fighting with the state government and also clashes with illegal immigrants, typically Muslim, who come largely from neighboring Bangladesh. In May, police in Assam shot three suspected separatist guerrillas allegedly involved in attacks on migrant Muslim communities that left at least 32 dead.

In July 2012, at least 75 people died and 200,000 were pushed from their homes in five days of clashes between Bodos and Muslims. Since 1992, more than 4,000 people, mostly Muslims, have lost their lives in politically motivated violence in Assam, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a New Delhi-based research group.