India has banned mass texting service for two weeks to contain the spread of false rumors regarding potential attacks based on ethnic conflicts, hoping to stanch an exodus from Bangalore and other cities to calm the panic.
Ever since ethnic violence erupted in the northeastern state of Assam in late July, which has left 78 dead and 300,000 displaced so far, people from the northeastern regions who live in other parts of India have been living in fear of attacks.
This fear was greatly exacerbated by the circulation of a false text message, warning the people of imminent attacks. Thousands of northeastern migrants began fleeing Bangalore and other cities, bringing an abrupt halt to the regular functioning of the work force and schools.
In an attempt to calm the chaotic situation, India banned the ability to send mass text messages -- this ban will stay in effect for two weeks. While it will greatly reduce the circulation of false texts, its effect in calming the public is still doubtful.
MP Ninong Ering from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh said in parliament Thursday that about 20,000 people had already fled cities including Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune, and demanded action against those spreading rumors, according to Bloomberg.
This massive exodus began as inflammatory mobile phone messages went viral, stating that northeasterners had been killed in Bangalore.
Dilip Kanti, a 24-year-old law student from the northeastern state of Mizoram who lives in Bangalore, said: "The messages warned that we should leave the city before the day of Eid." (Eid is the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, and happens to take place on Monday, Aug. 20 this year.)
The Karnataka state government (where Bangalore is located) and the local police have said that the message was a hoax and that they are investigating its source.
However, still thousands were not willing to take the chance, and decided to leave Bangalore.
"We will do our utmost to ensure that our friends, our children and our citizens from the northeast feel secure in any part and every part of our country," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday in parliament.
"We must curb all the elements that are out to create trouble," referring to the mass texting service.