India deployed troops to the state of Assam on Saturday after over 30 Muslims were gunned down in three days of what police said were attacks by tribal militants who resent the presence of immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Police found nine more bodies Saturday, taking the death toll to 32. Investigators said they arrested around 22 suspects in the violence-hit districts of Baksa and its neighbor, Kokrajhar.
“So far we have arrested about 22 people,” said a senior police official, who did not want to be named.
The latest fighting in the area, a site of frequent ethnic clashes, began on Thursday with the killing of 11 Bengali-speaking Muslim villagers, followed by more bloodshed Friday when 12 others were slain.
Police said it was not immediately known when the nine villagers whose bodies were recovered Saturday had been killed.
“The death toll has gone up,” police inspector general S. N. Singh told AFP. “Security has been further tightened with police and paramilitary troopers deployed in strength.”
The nine bodies, including those of women and kids, were recovered from Narayanguri village in Baksa district, 200 kilometers west of Assam’s main city of Guwahati.
This week’s attacks come as India votes in a multi-phased general election that began on April 7. Polling winds up on May 12, with results to be announced four days later.
Voting in Assam has ended, with April 24 the last day of polling.
Police blamed the attacks on the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has been demanding a separate homeland for decades.
Witnesses said some of the victims were killed as attackers opened fire on them while they slept in their homes.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directed Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Saturday to “restore normalcy” in the area, while condemning the attacks.
Separately, a local politician hugged during a television election debate by a “human torch” died of burn injuries, the family said Saturday.
The politician died late Friday in hospital, his family told AFP, after suffering burns to 75 percent of his body when a member of the audience doused himself in petrol and grabbed him.
The local leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Kamruzzama Fauji, and his attacker were engulfed in flames in front of the horrified audience as the television debate was being recorded for broadcast later.
India’s media had described the attacker as looking like a “human torch.”
The attack occurred as India’s state-owned national TV channel Doordarshan was recording the debate for broadcast later.
The program was being recorded in a park in Sultanpur, a town 160 kilometers from Uttar Pradesh state capital Lucknow.
Fauji’s attacker, who suffered 95 percent burns, died shortly after the incident, police said.