Guwahati: India deployed hundreds of troops and imposed a curfew on Wednesday as the death toll from electoral violence in Assam climbed to 20.
Most of the deaths have been the result of firing by police, who have been trying to halt attacks by machete-wielding tribesmen opposed to local elections.
“Eight people were killed in overnight clashes, taking the total number of people who have died so far to 20,” Bhupen Bora, an Assam state home ministry official told AFP in the state’s main city Guwahati.
Bora said a curfew had been declared in two violence-racked areas and about 500 soldiers had deployed to help police control the situation in Goalpara district, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Guwahati.
But despite the strict curfew orders, tribesmen armed with swords, machetes, spears and axes were seen marching through streets in their villages where several houses were set ablaze on Tuesday night.
The Rabha and Hasong tribal villagers, who have been demanding local autonomy and reject government rule in the area, are protesting at the polls for “panchayat” or village councils that were held Tuesday.
They say the elections undermine the authority of their own Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council.
“We want the right to rule, we believe in self-governance. The government has no right to impose elections on us,” Anil Rabha, a tribal leader, told AFP.
With tensions high, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has announced plans to pay compensation of Rs500,000 ($9,000) for the families of those killed in the police firing.
On Tuesday security forces opened fire when the tribesmen began setting fire to houses and attacking government officials with bows and arrows.
Northeast India has seen decades of friction among ethnic and separatist groups, although some rebels have recently started peace talks with the government.
More than 10,000 people have lost their lives to unrest in the the tea- and oil-rich state of Assam over the last two decades.