Mamang Vaiphei hid in the jungle for three nights after a mob attacked his village in Manipur, the remote Indian state where ethnic violence has reportedly killed at least 54 people.
About 23,000 people have fled the unrest that erupted last week in the hilly north-east state bordering Myanmar.
The latest clashes erupted between the majority Meitei people, who are mostly Hindu and live in and around the state capital, Imphal, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe of the hills.
“The Meitei people first burned down 26 or 27 houses,” said Mamang, a father of five who is now sleeping out in the open in an army camp with about 900 others bringing similar horror stories.
“Then they came again and finished all 92 houses [in the village], ransacked the church, the school and whatever was left,” the 54-year-old said, surrounded by exhausted and traumatised men, women and children.
There have long been tensions in the far-flung states of north-east India sandwiched between Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.
The spark for the latest violence was a protest about plans to give the Meitei “scheduled tribe” status, in a form of affirmative action, guaranteeing them quotas of government jobs and college admissions.
Violence erupted in Imphal and elsewhere with protesters setting fire to vehicles and buildings and, according to villagers, Meitei mobs armed with guns and petrol cans then attacking Kuki settlements in the hills.
The military has deployed thousands of troops, issued “shoot-at-sight” orders in “extreme cases”, imposed curfews and cut the internet.
Mamang, spending his fifth night homeless on Sunday, is one of around 23,000 people that the military says it has brought to safety.
He said that on 4 May he fled his village of Kamuching, which had a population of more than 500 people before the unrest, when a large crowd starting attacking.
“Everything was on fire … We ran away, all of us ran to the jungle and we try to survive,” he said.
Mostly people only managed to grab a small bag with a few personal belongings, an extra pair of clothes or their smartphones. Internet access has been shut down in the state.
“Every one of us here, we’re nervous, we’re afraid of death,” said Alun Vaiphei, 50, a Kuki tribal villager from Gotangkot…
This story was originally published in theguardian.com. Read the full story here