NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Around 10,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in northern India since religious riots erupted five days ago, the Times of India reported on Thursday, in a sign of rising tension between Hindus and Muslims ahead of a general election due by May.
More than 31 people were killed in clashes in Muzaffarnagar district, 130 km (80 miles) northeast of New Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which were reported to have broken out on Sept. 7 after a meeting of thousands of Hindu farmers calling for justice over the killing of three men who had objected to a woman being harassed by a Muslim.
In the following days Hindu and Muslim mobs clashed in parts of the district, homes were burned down in some villages and a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. curfew was imposed.
Reports on Thursday said the army and paramilitaries had been deployed, restored relative calm in the area and relaxed the curfew, but a senior government official said many poor people displaced by the violence were still in special camps run by the state.
“A staggering 10,000 — mostly poor villagers — have been displaced in the communal flare-up, some of whom have found their way to ten state relief camps,” Uttar Pradesh Home Secretary Kamal Saxena was quoted as saying.
India's main political parties have accused each other of stirring up the communal clashes. State police have registered cases against six local politicians alleged to have given inflammatory speeches at the meeting on Sept. 7, three of them from the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and one from the Congress party, which heads the national coalition government.
Experts say violence between Muslims and Hindus has been a defining feature of Indian politics since the creation of Pakistan as part of the partition of British India in 1947, when hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced.