Friday, August 17, 2012

Mass exodus

Thousands of migrant workers and students from the north-east are fleeing the southern cities now, particularly Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. For the past few days, there have been stampedes at railway stations crammed with multitudes of people desperately waiting for a number of specially scheduled trains to take them back to Guwahati. Every such train that arrives at Bangalore railway station precipitates a virtual stampede, with thousands of panic-stricken passengers, with or without tickets, pushing into overcrowded compartments. Railway platforms have become veritable makeshift camps, with stranded passengers anxiously waiting to board the next train, uncertain about the possibility of making it in time. To ameliorate the situation, the railway authorities have arranged for additional services but these are nowhere near commensurate with the sudden and tremendous upsurge in demand. Yesterday, there were 7,500 ticketed passengers boarding four Guwahati-bound trains in Bangalore, including three special trains apart from the regular Banglore-Guwahati Express. Workers, students, professionals from the north-east are reluctant to go back to their lives in Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai (and towns like Madurai, Coimbatore and others). The perceptible threat of ethnic conflict in the air makes any pretense of normalcy impossible.

What is particularly insidious about this "threat" is that it's been instigated by "rumours" and the circulation of doctored videos. A report in the papers yesterday quoted from a Pakistani blogger's study of the videos doing the rounds in Indian cities, which found that the videos, purportedly of the Bodo-Muslim conflict in Assam, contained a number of shots from previous incidents of violence from other places. These videos were not of the Assam riots but were circulated as "evidence" of the atrocities committed in Assam. While hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in Assam and continue to languish in makeshift IDP camps, these calculated attempts to incite further violence in other parts of the country are opportunistic and extremely dangerous. North-eastern migrant workers in Chennai speak of "rumours" and implicit threats to leave the city by August 20. In Mumbai, 58 policemen and 5 civilians were injured when a crowd clashed with the police at a protest meeting organized by the Raza Academy in Azad Maidan. Two people died in the police firing that followed.

The home minister of Karnataka arrived at the railway station in Bangalore on Wednesday evening and made an appeal to the passengers to return to their homes in the city. He assured them that security would be maintained at all costs. His appeal was drowned out by the angry responses of the passengers. The police held meetings on Thursday with north-eastern and Muslim representatives. The fact of the matter is that no ethnic conflict in the past has been mitigated by police vigilance. The people, fearing for their safety in a polarized and violent political climate, have no alternative but to rush back "home" and hope for some semblance of normalcy and security.

1 comment:

ranveer barooah said...

Just bumped into this, really appreciate the write-up!

What I strongly feel is that sometimes demarcation like one of these - 'North-east of India' really dilutes the identity of a region.

Being myself more a Bangalorean than an Asamiya, needless to say, the exodus was more w.r.to other regions rather than Assam itself, however; in the context of media it's the Valley which is always the focal point, and this time just because people boarded trains to GAU?!!

What missed on the milieu was, the people who fled were non-Indo-aryans, which mean more Orientals, thus more from other States. No wonder they would board trains to GAU, Assam is the only place that has the apt railway connections but thereafter; the onward journey to Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal, among others was 'lost in news-wire translation'!

So, has the journey exclusively been to the Valley? Not that I would agree to.

I feel sad the way it happened and esp. because it was just rumour mongering that led people, in fact not wrong if I say Xenophobics, to flee from Bangalore.

A huge group of people, whom I know from Assam were even not bothered, not sure if being an Indo-aryan added to the advantage, but I would certainly say people of Assam remained (most of us, if not all) in the city...

Alas! Assam always gets engulfed in the 'Northeast', the term that I have ostracized from my vocabulary!