India’s northeast, a lush triangle ringed by China, Burma, and Bangladesh is dotted with picturesque tea estates and pineapple plantations. Wild elephants and one-horned rhinos roam ancient forested migration routes.
But this week, the state of Assam (see map here) witnessed brutal mob violence, which virtually cut it off from the rest of India. According to police, at least 45 people have been killed, homes burnt, butchered bodies recovered, railway lines blocked in protest, and at least 150,000 people have fled their homes in fear.
At its heart, Assam’s troubles are about corrupt politicians encouraging illegal immigration at the expense of locals.
“Since 1971, there’s been a steady influx of immigrants from Bangladesh,” says Rahul Pandita, associate editor of Open magazine who’s covered India’s northeast extensively. “And local politicians gave them Indian identity documents so they would vote for them. They’ve changed the entire demographics of the area and created a powder keg ready to explode.”