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Friday, August 17, 2012

Assam trouble and NE people fleeing Bangalore, Hyderabad & Chennai

There is a simple diktat – never communicate what you are unsure of and what you have not seen with your own eyes… never believe in messages that say that ‘something happened to a person – a friend of another friend’ and many such incidents perhaps had occurred……….  South India — which has never seen non-locals fleeing the region for fear of their lives, sadly is witnessing the unprecedented exodus of citizens from the Northeast and there are official reports of thousands from Chennai too rushing to the railway station to take the train home.

It may not be choice or by design, but modern cities do not belong to any particular group…. The capital of Tamilnadu has a very great mix of Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, Kannada and other language speaking groups – in almost all big malls, shopping complexes and even in neighbourhood friendly provision shops, you see people from NE working as assistants, almost the entire workforce you see in building sites consists of people from Orissa and NE.

Many in the city live an unperturbed uncaring life within the confines of their flat – be it a big one or a small one on some floor of a bigger housing complex. They leave for Office in the morning, come back late without caring to know their neighbours – spend their leisure within the walls, enjoying food.. – watching movies and other shows on TVs and computers – party with their select groups and do not mingle much – they neither know nor care to know what happens around them…….. it is a life on mobile, computer, internet, facebook and other things……..that way citydweller has little time to forment trouble and some do not even care to read in newspapers even if it be something that occurred in the area.

Still, it perhaps was the  combined power of the mobile phone, the Internet and the social media  that triggered the crisis that made  thousands of people belonging to North East and living elsewhere  flee Bangalore, Hyderabad and to a lesser extent Chennai.  About a month back, a Pakistani news portal carried an image of Buddhist monks wearing masks amid a sea of mutilated bodies. It turned out that the image was of the July 2010 earthquake in Tibet where the monks were engaged in relief work. But the portal carried the image with the tag “The body of Muslims slaughtered by Buddhist Barma [Myanmar].” By the time protests from the Tibetan groups forced the portal to withdraw the image, the damage was ostensibly done.  The image went viral on the Internet and two weeks ago it found its way into the pages of a local papers which passed it off as proof of Muslim persecution in Myanmar.

There are reports that shocking claims of kidnap, assault, molestation and intimidation, were let loose invariably  with statements like, “It happened to a friend of a friend.” – and as it spreads everyone tends to add some gory details into a virtual non-happening.  In Bangalore there was unabated flight of people boarding Guwahati-bound trains.  Chennai Commissioner of Police J.K. Tripathy is quoted as telling The Hindu that no complaint of violence against natives of the Northeast had been reported so far.  But migrant workers from the Northeast appeared too panicky at the moment to pay heed to such assurances.  Those who had been doing menial jobs and earning a living in Chennai are quite pleased in the way they have been treated in Tamilnadu, still the rumours and the panic back at home have made them leave in groups.  Many of them attribute the fear to messages from friends in Bangalore and continuous phone calls from home, asking them to come back.  Hours after the rumours began to circulate, waves of panic-stricken people are still clambering onto trains headed for what they perceive as the safety of their “home”.

Though no incidents have been reported, this cannot be ignored as a colossal overreaction to rumours or the monstrous propaganda of technology.

What the Nation needs to study, analyse and if affirmative, weed out is whether this rumour mongering has any sinister design and whether it is part of any political agenda of any group.  The riots in Assam of recent weeks have provided plenty of scope for political mobilisation by parties across the spectrum. For the Congress, whose failure to pre-empt the riots despite early warning signals and whose reluctance to even contemplate illegal Bangladeshi migration as one potential source of conflict in the northeast have invited much criticism, the panic attacks elsewhere in India offer a way of changing the narrative from its own failings. Elsewhere some radical Muslim leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi are fishing in the troubled waters of the Brahmaputra and using it as a bait for a large political project of feeding victimhood among Muslims. Owaisi warned in Parliament of a “third wave of radicalisation” of Muslims.

All this politicking has provided a fertile ground for rumours to shamefully breed and hold sway, which even the earnest appeals for calm from our leaders have failed to discredit.  In Mumbai a not so famous group ran riot organizing a rally and the State failed to pre-empt the violence.  Sad that even smaller party heads can hold States to ransom.

The city of Chennai has been by and large most peaceful, more so when compared to other metropolis like Kolkatta, Mumbai or Delhi.  Not even a single case of physical assault or verbal threat them has been reported in the state.  But the nos. heading for Railway station is unprecedented and it is the responsibility of everyone to ensure that they feel secured and others do not spread rumours in any manner. 

Sushilkumar Shinde got the Home portfolio immediately after the blackout and he instead of assuring safety and enforcing the rule of law against nameless and faceless rumour mongers, says, if need be, the government will arrange for more trains.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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