Indian Episcopate Wants Halt to Social-Ethnic Conflict in Assam

Appeals for Peace in Wake of Violence Against Hindi-Speakers

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NEW DELHI, India, NOV. 30, 2003 ( Anguished by a wave of violence in the state of Assam against natives of Bihar, the Indian episcopate appealed to the local and central governments to intervene to restore peace.

«Violence, by no means, is an acceptable route to sort out social, religious and political issues,» reads a statement of the Indian bishops’ conference.

The bishops noted «with alarm the increasing tendency in the country to resort to violence at the slightest provocation, which has cost the nation dearly.»

A week of violence in Assam caused the death of more than 50 Hindi-speaking people from other states who were residing in Assam. Economic problems are the cause of the conflict, which was soon used by rebel groups for their political ends, local authorities said.

Police have attributed most of the killings to the National Front for the Liberation of Assam.

«Migration of people from one part of the country to another is a democratic right» and leads to «greater national integration,» the bishops of India noted in their Nov. 22 statement. Thus, any «attempt to undermine this aspect would be detrimental to the national interest» and must be «nipped in the bud.»

«The Catholic bishops of India earnestly appeal to the state government of Assam and the central government to take all measures to put an end to the disruptive agitation and to restore peace and amity among all sections of people,» the statement concluded.

Many citizens of Assam are distrustful of Hindi-speaking residents, whom they accuse of taking jobs away from them. The problem arose when the competition was announced for jobs in the state railroad company, a circumstance that attracted candidates from elsewhere, especially the poor state of Bihar.

Activists of the Assam Student Union did not allow natives of Bihar to compete for the jobs. This angered the Bihar Student Association, which attacked Assam citizens in a train station two weeks ago.

The incident unleashed violence against the natives of Bihar, some 15,000 of whom have left the state.

The socio-ethnic conflict in Assam, in northeastern India, intensified last Monday when three Hindi-speaking people were killed and nine wounded by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

A group of this rebel organization, which is struggling for the creation of an autonomous Bodo state within Assam, pretending they were the police, invaded the home of Bihar natives in the village of Khangkhlabari, in the northern district of Darrang. They dragged their victims outside and shot them.

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