Aug. 16: Thousands of workers and students from the Northeast continued to flee Bangalore and Hyderabad today, their panic fuelled by what state and central governments said were text-messaged “rumours” of revenge attacks for the recent Assam violence.
Dispur this evening appealed to all political parties, NGOs, media and civil society groups not to believe in the rumours and verify facts from a control room set up at the special branch headquarters (0361-2380620). It also deputed a nodal IPS officer, Mridulananda Sarma (9435085487).
The Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh governments today went all out to issue safety assurances to the community but thousands, frightened by texted warning of attacks after August 20, jumped into the earliest available trains to Calcutta and Guwahati.
The Karnataka government denied all reports of attacks on members of Bangalore’s 200,000-strong Northeast community but some people from the region spoke of being assaulted and threatened to leave before August 20.
The trigger for the panic appears to be the stabbing of a Tibetan youth, Tenzin Dargyal, 22, in a busy area of Mysore yesterday. He was taken to Krishnarajendra Hospital and operated upon.
A first-year BA student of St Joseph’s College in Bangalore told The Telegraph that he had been waylaid by motorbike-borne youths armed with sticks and a knife when he was returning home from a friend’s place in an autorickshaw around 8am on August 11. He said his auto driver saved him. “They left after abusing me and asking me to leave by August 20. My parents are worried and want me to return,” the 19-year-old said.
There were rumours of some Northeast youths being stabbed in Bangalore’s Muslim-dominated Neelasanda locality. But police sources said no such incident was reported. A few isolated incidents were also reported from the colonies around Hyderabad’s IT corridor. On Saturday, Milal Saikia, 21, a security guard, was assaulted in Madhapur. The attackers warned him to leave by August 20.
Some people said their local MLAs in Assam had directed them to leave their jobs and return home at once.
“Please don’t believe these rumours. The government is with you,” Karnataka chief minister Jagadish Shettar told some 400 members of the northeastern community outside his home today. State director-general of police Lalrokhuma Pachau also assured the people of their safety.
Karnataka home minister R. Ashok rushed to Bangalore City railway station to unsuccessfully urge the assembled hundreds to stay back. He assured them of security in all the sensitive areas of the city and in the trains to the Northeast till the Karnataka borders. Several other ministers and top bureaucrats also tried to assure the panic-stricken people of security.
RSS deployed volunteers, who carried placards saying “Bangalore is safe”, at the railway station. Muslim organisations, too, carried placards, chanted slogans like “Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai” and hugged people at the platform.
Taufiq Ahmed Madikeri, president of the Karnataka unit of Students Islamic Organisation, said, “We want to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters from the Northeast and assure them there’s nothing to fear. We are all Indians and no one can ask anyone to leave the city.”
Around 6pm, a BJP-led multi-group sit-in was held at Puttanna Chetty Town Hall to express support for Northeast people. But the Northeast community was apprehensive. About 6,800 people from the Northeast left Bangalore on jam-packed trains yesterday, Ashok said.
Thousands of migrant workers from Assam employed in Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam — mostly Bodos working as security guards in malls, IT campuses, and defence and corporate facilities — have fled since Tuesday. Reports of similar flight on a smaller scale came from Chennai and Pune.
Andhra Pradesh DGP Dinesh Reddy and police commissioner Anurag Sharma assured the people of security and safety.
MIM leader and MP Assaduddin Owaisi yesterday visited migrant colonies in the old city of Hyderabad and assured them of protection.
Sarbeshwar Sahariah, a former president of Hyderabad Assamese Association, and police sources said Saturday’s violent protests in Mumbai against the Assam clashes also “scared” students and workers from the Northeast.
“For the past three days, Calcutta-bound trains like the Howrah Express, Shalimar Express, East Coast Express and the Falaknuma Express have been running with 100-150 people crammed into a single compartment,” a railway manager in Secunderabad said.
The Centre ran two special trains from Bangalore to Guwahati yesterday and two more today to allay the Northeast community’s fears. Another one is scheduled to leave at 1pm tomorrow.
“Generally, about 300 tickets are booked for Guwahati (from Bangalore) which rose to 6,000 in the last two days,” railway minister Mukul Roy said, adding that it was “standard practice” to ply special trains during a rush.
Railway officials said more than 2,000 tickets to Guwahati were sold today besides the 5,000 sold yesterday. A similar number is expected to leave tomorrow.
The common refrain from people who flocked at the station was, “Everyone is leaving, so we are also leaving.” It was near hysteria as people jostled to board the trains.
However, there were some like Tina, 19, from Manipur who works as a sales girl in Bangalore. She said she was scared and “not without reason” but she would stay. Rajib Dev from Tinsukia, who works as a clinical researcher, felt that Bangalore was “safer than Guwahati”.
In Guwahati, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said this afternoon that he would send a minister, a senior bureaucrat and a police official each to Hyderabad and Bangalore.
“We are very concerned at the developments. Two special trains have been introduced to help those leaving, mostly out of fear and rumour. I am in touch with my counterparts from the affected states. An official team will go to Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. There is too much rumour-mongering because of technological advances such as mobile and Internet. We will have to look at the legal options to help check rumours,” he said.
Cabinet ministers Pradyut Bordoloi and Rakibul Hussain, senior bureaucrat V.S. Bhaskar and DIG Vijay Ramisetti will fly to Hyderabad tomorrow morning while ministers Nilamoni Sen Deka and Chandan Brahma, bureaucrat S. Jagannathan and superintendent of police (special branch) Sudhakar Singh will fly to Bangalore. Bordoloi will also go to Pune, CMO sources said. Each team will interact with the governments of those states and representatives of communities from the Northeast to allay fears and ensure security, they added.
Nabam Tuki, Gogoi’s counterpart in Arunachal Pradesh, also spoke to Shettar today, urging foolproof security for Northeast students studying in the state. He directed Lok Sabha MP Takam Sanjoy to rush to Bangalore and Pune.
Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma today sought the intervention of Union home ministry to facilitate the tour of a government delegation from Meghalaya to these states to instil confidence among the students.
At an Iftar party this evening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he had spoken to the chief ministers of Assam, Karnataka and Maharashtra. “We have to work together to make sure that the Northeast communities in Karnataka and Maharashtra do not feel threatened. We have to work with the local communities to make sure they feel safe,” he said.