A senior Presbyterian leader in Meghalaya says recent “ethnic clashes” in the Christian-dominated northeastern Indian state were part of a continuing border dispute with Assam.
Four people were killed and 26 injured on May 14 after police were forced to open fire on warring Khasi and Nepalese groups.
“Assam sends Nepalese people to settle in border areas, which it shares with Meghalaya in order to claim the areas as its own,” said Reverend P.B.M. Basaiamoit, vice-president of the National Council of Churches in India.
He said there are no ethnic tensions between native Meghalaya tribal groups – Garo, Jaintia, Khasi and Nepalese.
Fighting broke out in Langpih village, some 60 kilometers from Assam’s commercial capital Guwahati. Both Assam and Meghalaya lay claim to the area.
Langpih is located close to Meghalaya’s West Khasi Hills district, home to the Khasi tribe, and near Assam’s Kamrup district.
Khasi elders say Assam has settled many Nepalese migrants in the disputed area. Khasi people, fearing the loss of their land, often clash with the settlers.
The latest outbreak of violence started after the Khasi Students Union issued notices to the Nepalese to leave the area.
However, Khasi tribal leaders intervened and withdrew the notices saying the issue must be sorted out at state level, said Reverend Basaiamoit, who is based in Meghalaya.
The dead victims in the clashes were all Khasi.
Some 70 percent of the 2.3 million people in Meghalaya are Christians. It is one of three Christian dominated states in India. The others are Nagaland and Mizoram.