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Raju Basmathi from Assam arrived in Bangalore on August 21—nothing extraordinary on any other day. But days after 30,000 northeasterners fled the city, scared by rumours that Muslims would attack them to avenge the death of their brethren in Assam, he was one of a handful on the train from Guwahati.
With the scare now diminishing, the real reasons for northeasterners fleeing the city are emerging. It was not so much the threatening rumours on SMS or the violence in Bodoland but, as many Bangaloreans told Outlook, a potent mix of politics aimed at polarising the city (elections are due next May), intelligence failure and a police administration that had looked the other way for years while northeasterners were being subjected to racial profiling.
“This was orchestrated to divert people’s attention away from political scams,” says a long-time resident. “But those who hatched the plot did not anticipate the scale of the consequence.” Adds Bangalore resident Lawrence Liang, who is of Chinese origin, “The exodus points to an underlying insecurity, particularly among the lower strata like security guards.” They are virtually ghettoised in areas like Neelsasandara and are among the majority who fled.
Even in Hyderabad, it was the security guards, maintenance staff in IT companies and MNCs in HiTec City or cooks in small hotels who fled. While the police refuse to give numbers, the deserted look in two Madhapur colonies—Siddique Nagar and Anjaiah Nagar near HiTec City—tells the story quite eloquently. The few locals who live in the area say at least 4,000 workers have left. Extra coaches on trains to Guwahati were filled with passengers, not because they had received any direct threat, but because folks back home were worried. There are some exceptions, though. Ajnabi Das Baruah, a management trainee, for instance, talks of having received tremendous support from her neighbours in the city. “My parents are worried,” she says, “but I feel I will stay on and just try to stay safe.”
Not everyone is so sure. While Karnataka DGP Lalrokhuma Pachau may claim that the police is cracking down “very, very seriously”, Benmila, a student, says, “How serious the police are in solving our problems can be seen from the fact that some of them gave a nine-digit mobile number for a helpline.” Police apathy is what migrants commonly recount and one of the main reasons why the panic spread so fast. Rev Dr Daniel Fernandes, principal, St Joseph’s College, has sheltered 38 boys and five girls because “they are afraid something will happen even when they walk on the road.” P.V. Joseph, a student from Manipur, says, “One of my classmates was beaten with sticks.” Another reported overhearing at a butcher’s, “Today you can buy meat, tomorrow we’ll butcher you.”
Rumours of four Muslim youth abusing some Assamese workers in Hyderabad’s Siddique Nagar triggered such panic that some Assamese citizens even sold their cycles and electronic equipment to raise money for going home. Though not a single attack on an Assamese has been reported in Hyderabad, people continue to rush home. It’s helped little by the fact that people like BJP president Nitin Gadkari continue to stoke the fires rather than help calm them. “The attacks in some parts of the country on people from the Northeast is unfortunate....,” he said, in commiseration. Only to drive home his own point: “These are being perpetrated by illegal migrants living in the country. There is a foreign hand in this.”
By Pushpa Iyengar in Bangalore and Madhavi Tata in Hyderabad