Retaliatory attacks ringed villages in Assam on Thursday at a time military helicopters scoured remote areas in line with the Centre's promise of zero-tolerance to Bodo militants who triggered a ghastly sectarian bloodshed that left over 78 dead.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh visited Sonitpur, one of the three violence-hit districts, and assured strong action against the anti-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), led by its self-styled commander IK Songbijit, for Tuesday's massacre in which Adivasi tea plantation workers were pulled out of their homes before being shot dead.
More than half of the victims were women and children.
"The killers were so ruthless that even a five-month-old baby was not spared. They put a gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger," said Singh, announcing that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) would probe the killings.
"This is an act of terrorism. Our policy is zero tolerance to terrorism. There won't be any dialogue with any militant outfit killing innocent people… only action," he said, accompanied by his deputy Kiren Rijiju and Union minister for tribal affairs Jual Oram.
Fresh violence was reported at Gossaigaon in Kokrajhar district where several houses of Bodos were set ablaze by Adivasis seeking revenge over the killings.
A military official said helicopters were scouring the jungles to track down militants trying to flee to Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh.
The home minister has requested foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to seek help from Bhutan and Myanmar to track down the militants who have apparently fled to either of these neighbouring nations after the carnage.
A police officer said six more bodies were recovered on Thursday morning in Sonitpur district. Three Adivasis were killed in police firing during protests against the carnage on Wednesday.
In Kokrajhar, the other affected district, retaliatory violence by Adivasis claimed the lives of four Bodos. Curfew has been also imposed in the affected areas.
About 5,000 additional troops have been deployed in response to the attacks.
Fear of more attacks has prompted thousands of people to abandon their homes and seek safety in makeshift relief shelters in small towns. Some have fled to Alipurduar in West Bengal on the Assam border.
District magistrate of Alipurduar R Alise Viz told HT that all necessary arrangements would be made to provide shelter to the refugees.