An Indian policeman stands guard during the curfew hours following riots and clashes between two communities in Muzaffarnagar, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh - Photo by AP
LUCKNOW: Hundreds of troops were deployed on Sunday to quell deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims, sparked by the killing of three villagers who had objected to the harrassment of a young woman in northern India.
The two groups charged at each other with guns and knives in Kawal village in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
According to the police, nine people, including an Indian broadcast journalist and a police photographer, were killed in the clashes.
The violence quickly spread to neighboring villages in Muzaffarnagar district on Saturday night.
''A curfew has been imposed in three riot-hit areas of Muzaffarnagar,'' said R.M. Srivastava, who is Head of the state's Home Ministry . ''The situation is still very tense, but under control.''
Indian soldiers went door to door to in search of weapons and a state of high alert was declared for the entire state of Uttar Pradesh, comprising of 200 million people.
The clashes broke out on Saturday after thousands of Hindu farmers held a meeting in Kawal to demand justice for killing of three men who had spoken out when a woman was being verbally harassed.
The state's minority welfare minister, Mohammad Azam Khan, said some at the meeting gave provocative speeches calling for Muslims to be killed.
According to a senior police official Arun Kumar, the farmers were attacked while they were returning home after the meeting.
''The attack seemed well planned,'' said Kumar, adding that some of the attackers were armed with rifles and sharp-edged weapons.
Gunfire was reported from several areas of the village. Within hours clashes broke out in neighboring villages.
A leader from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said tensions had been simmering since the three men were killed on August 27 in a tea shop.
''Had the killers been arrested, the situation might not have gone out of hand,'' Vijay Bahadur Pathak said.
Tensions were expected to escalate in the run-up to next year's national elections, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters in New Delhi on Saturday. He asked all 28 of India's states to stay alert and improve their ability to gather intelligence.
Uttar Pradesh was at the heart of some of India's worst communal clashes in December 1992, after a Hindu mob razed the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya.
According to Indian media, communal violence last month left two dead and 22 injured in a village in Bihar state, east of Uttar Pradesh.
Outbreaks were also reported recently in Uttar Pradesh's district of Shamli, as well as in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
The government has warned that India is seeing a rise in communal violence, with 451 incidents reported already this year, compared with 410 for all of 2012