Indian paramilitary forces rushed to the restive northeastern state of Assam on Wednesday after separatist rebels gunned down nearly 70 people in a spasm of violence linked to long-running land and tribal disputes.
The coordinated attacks late Tuesday were carried out by ethnic Bodos, who have long agitated for an independent state, against settlers known as adivasi, many of whom work on Assam’s renowned tea plantations.
In retaliatory strikes Wednesday, several Bodo villages and hundreds of households were set ablaze, apparently by settlers, according to Bodo activists.
A faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a rebel group that the Indian government has designated as a terrorist organization, was blamed for the Tuesday night attacks, which occurred across two districts and were reportedly carried out to avenge Indian army operations against the group several weeks ago.
Indian news media reported that the dead in one district, Kokrajhar, included 18 children and 21 women.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh described the attacks by Bodos as “an act of terror and we will deal with it accordingly.”
The separatist group is seeking an independent state for the ethnic Bodos, who make up about 10% of Assam’s 31 million people. The arrival of settlers, including ethnic Bengali Muslims from neighboring Bangladesh, in recent decades has reduced the Bodos’ share of the population, activist groups say.
Indian forces declared a curfew in the affected areas, but advocates for the Bodo people said security measures were weak and retaliatory attacks could continue.
The curfew “is meaningless, with the strength of security falling dangerously short,” said Pramod Boro, president of All Bodo Students Union in Kokrajhar, one of the two districts where attacks occurred.
Nongovernmental groups say periodic violence between Bodos, among the region’s original inhabitants, and settler groups has killed at least 10,000 people, mostly civilians, over the last three decades.
Parth M.N. is a special correspondent.
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