Two young girls were burnt alive and nearly 100 houses torched in an Uttar Pradesh district as rival Hindu and Muslim groups clashed over the murder of a youth.
The violence in three villages of Pratapgarh district, about 150 km from the Capital, took place on Sunday evening following the murder of Ashish Pathak, a close aide of the local ruling Samajwadi Party legislator.
His uncle, Shashidhar Pandey, also suffered bullet injuries, but was declared out of danger later in the day.
Pandey, the sole witness to the killing, identified Pathak's assailants, triggering the large-scale violence.
With active support of the ruling party legislator, the goons went on a retaliatory attack, burning down Muslim houses in Gurwa, Badlu and Subedar villages, police sources said.
Eyewitnesses claimed that two teenaged girls were burnt alive after being flung into the blaze by the attackers.
According to the police, even though the clash had not aggravated into any kind of communal violence, an alert had been sounded and additional forces had been deployed to prevent any escalation in tensions.
"The girls were not thrown into the fire but got caught in the blaze that engulfed their house," Pratapgarh District Magistrate RS Verma said.
Blaming the incident on "old enmity" between two families, he said, "The tension dates back to 1997 when Ashish was named as one of the key accused in the murder of a local Muslim, Jumman. His son Sohrab, who was then just a minor, had vowed to avenge the father's death, which he accomplished by gunning down Ashish."
Verma, who was camping in Gurwa village, where most of the houses were set ablaze, was confident that the situation would not acquire a communal colour.
"We have enough force stationed here to ensure that there was no recurrence of violence," he claimed.
The police had already arrested some of the suspects and more would follow, the official added.