Thousands of indigenous Assamese displaced after violence

The indigenous Bodo people of the Northeast Indian state of Assam are appealing to the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) for prayer and support in the wake of ethnic clashes in recent months.

Violence broke out in Assam in July between Bodos, who are mostly Hindus or Christians, and Muslims, causing the deaths at least 80 persons and the displacement of more than 400,000 who fled their homes and are now living in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps.  More than 5,000 of their houses were razed.

Baptist World Aid (BWAid), the relief and development arm of the BWA, sent a grant of US$10,000 for immediate relief. BWAid and the BWA Division of Freedom and Justice are working on a joint response to the crisis.

The violence broke out on July 10 after four local Bodo boys were hacked to death in Joypur, in Lower Assam, by a group of Bengali speaking Muslims, who are believed to be migrants from Bangladesh. This led to retaliatory arson and killings.  The violence was brought under control by the Indian army over a period of three days.

Some 275 temporary camps were set up in schools, colleges, churches and temples to give shelter to the displaced. Isolated incidents of violence reportedly continued. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited some of the IDP camps after the army quelled the violence.

Reports are that an estimated 50,000 migrant Assamese and other Northeast Indians have fled the Indian "mainland" as rumors spread that Muslim attacks were imminent in cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore. Most citizens of Northeast India are culturally and ethnically related to Southeast Asians such as Thais, Vietnamese, Filipinos and Chinese.

Nongovernment organizations and churches, including Baptists, one of the larger Christian groups in Assam, are mobilizing resources to aid the affected people. Local churches of the Boro Baptist Church Association, which is affiliated with the Lower Assam Baptist Union (LABU), a BWA member organization, contributed money, materials and labor during the relief effort.

"Most of the affected people could not save clothes, utensils, cattle/livestock, etc., except a handful of things and the clothes they were wearing," the LABU reported. "They had to rush to safe places in order to save their lives. For the children the immediate needs are medical care, clothing, school books, supplementary food items (mainly for the babies), mosquito nets, hygiene and sanitary kits."

The LABU estimates "it may take some months for the affected people to return to their homes," and has prepared a project proposal for assistance. The project aims to aid 500 families or approximately 3,000 persons, with immediate relief, from September to the end of March 2013.

The LABU is based in Kokrajhar District, the center of the conflicts, where it is believed 100 percent of its members are Bodo. The LABU has approximately 41,000 members in 300 churches.

Another BWA member body in the state, the North Bank Baptist Christian Association, has more than 70,000 members in almost 1,000 churches, about 70 percent of whom are Bodo. The Assam Baptist Convention, another BWA member in Assam, has approximately 30,000 members in 335 churches.

Baptist World Alliance®
© September 18, 2012