Violence erupted about a month ago between two ethnic groups in western Assam, India, according to Taku and Katie Longkumer, American Baptist International Ministries (IM) development workers in NE India. “Over 200,000 people were displaced as dozens of villages were burned to the ground and over 70 people hacked to death,” describe the Longkumers. They characterize the scene as “tense” and “violent” and began requesting prayer from U.S. and Puerto Rico churches a month ago.
“The majority of those left homeless are still in relief camps, afraid to return to rebuild their homes even though security forces are in the area to enforce peace,” said the Longkumers. “There remain many folks unaccounted for, and incidents of fatal violence still randomly erupt throughout the area. The situation has breached the borders of Assam with violent demonstrations, riots in Mumbai.”
In a update received by IM on August 20, the Longkumers cite rampant threats made in the cities of South India and Maharashtra during the past week warning all people from North East India to leave before August 20 (the Muslim holiday of Eid) or they would be attacked. This resulted in mass hysteria and the exodus of around 16,000 people from South India back to NE India. As thousands of people swamped the train stations the government issued numerous special trains to transport them to Guwahati. These threats were conveyed through mass texts, on blogs and social networking sites. Government officials and members of the Muslim community tried to assure the panic- stricken travelers of their security to no avail. Only now the exodus has subsided with extra security forces being deployed in the sensitive areas of the cities under threat.
News reports indicate that the government has discovered that the threats originated from Pakistan, the Longkumers describe. “So, this has now expanded from local ethnic violence to a national issue with international implications.” Assam has the second- largest Muslim population in India, next to Jammu Kashmir. Throughout the years the presence and capture of ISI (Pakistani intelligence) operatives have been reported in the papers here.
“The situation remains tense,” report the Longkumers. “We are not in any danger, but these conflicts do touch on the areas where our work with Neighborhood Ministry takes place. The baptisms we'd been conducting are on hold as the ‘safe’ location we'd been using is in that conflict zone.”
The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), a para-church organization of India, has denounced the violence in Assam and the social media hate campaign that led to an exodus of young professionals from several cities in recent days. The Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, General Secretary of EFI, pledges their solidarity with all victims in the current national tragedy.
IM’s partner, The Council of Baptist Churches in North East India (CBCNEI) has people presently in the area visiting relief camps, while others are preparing to provide relief for 20 villages within the next week. IM has given an immediate grant of $7,000 to CBCNEI for relief work.
Says Katie and Taku Longkumer, “Only the grace of God can bring healing to the myriads of people whose lives have been disrupted or uprooted. Please pray for wisdom that the authorities could bring the situation to a just and compassionate resolution with no further loss of life.”