Thousands of migrants from northeast India are seeking to flee the southern city of Bangalore over fears that they may be targeted for violence in connection with communal clashes in their home states.
The indigenous Bodo tribes of Assam, in India’s extreme northeast, have been engaged in weeks of violent confrontations with Muslim immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. These clashes have led to the displacement of at least 300,000 people.
However, it is unclear why Assamese and other northeastern migrants would feel endangered in southern and other parts of India.
Earlier, a student from Tibet was reportedly attacked by two people in Mysore, a city near Bangalore, on suspicion he came from northeast India. The First Post newspaper said northeastern migrants have also been attacked in Mumbai and Pune in western India.
Amidst the growing panic, R.K. Singh, India’s Home Secretary, tried to calm the situation by blaming the unrest on "rumor- mongering" and rejected the notion that migrants were at risk in Bangalore, India’s affluent technological hub.
The chief minister of Karnataka (where Bangalore is located), Jagdish Shettar, has told India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Northeastern migrants in the city are safe and do not face any threats.
"I promised that [the] necessary steps would be taken to give protection to these people," he told Indian media.
The state police chief in Karnataka, Lalrokhuma Pachau, has also assured Northeastern migrants that they are welcome in Bangalore.
"There are rumors that North-East people have been thrashed and asked to leave the city,” he told reporters at an impromptu press conference.
“We want to clarify these are baseless rumors and no person of north-eastern origin has filed any complaint or approached police about such an instance. Rumors are being spread with lightning speed through the internet. Let's keep a distance from them.”
It is unclear how many migrants in Bangalore have returned to their native states; however Indian railways have provided additional locomotives to accommodate the crush of people seeking to depart.
Meanwhile, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that the chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, admitted that unidentified “forces” are seeking to foment violence in his state in order to destabilize the government structure.
“It is true that there are some forces who are trying to destabilize the [central] and the state government. There are game plans against the state government also. There are forces. I do not deny that,” he told reporters.
“It is also true that rumor has created a lot of problems. We are looking on ways to curb such things.”
Gogoi also urged his fellow Assamese in Bangalore and other parts of India not to panic.
“There is no threat to them. Even the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have spoken to the chief ministers of the two states,” he said.
“The exodus is the result of rumor.”
BBC reported that about a quarter-million Assamese live and work in Bangalore, attracted to plentiful jobs in the city. Other migrants have moved to Delhi and Mumbai for work in recent years as India’s economy has surged.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.