There are bloody riots in Assam, which in turn triggers violence at a rally in Mumbai, followed by attacks on students in Pune and stabbing in Mysore. The chain of events triggers a panicked stampede in Bangalore?
On the face of it, this cosmopolitan city appears to be the most unlikely location for such widespread panic. Surely, Northeasterners in Mumbai had better cause to flee given the widely circulated images and video clips of militant Muslims on a rampage in the city. Or perhaps in Delhi where people from the North-East face constant harassment and discrimination, and therefore are more likely to feel more insecure. Even Pune where there were actual attacks has not experienced any such exodus.
Bangalore, in contrast, has been entirely peaceful. “Not even a single case of physical assault or verbal threat them has been reported in the state. However, as a precaution, police chiefs of all districts have been directed to take necessary steps to prevent such incidents,” DG Pachuau said at a press conference (barring the attack in Mysore on a Tibetan by unknown assailants, which he fails to mention).
Even so, everyone who looks even vaguely northeastern—be it Nepalis, Assamese, Nagas or Mizos—were quick to head to the train station. As of now, up to 6,000 of the 2.5 lakh NE populace is reported to have left town.
It’s not an overwhelming number, but it raises the question “Why Bangalore?”
One possible answer is a systematic campaign to create fear, using social media, SMSes, and regional media to spread rumours of attacks. There are no reports of similar campaigns in any city other than Bangalore. The Hindu reports: “When contacted, student unions, representing different northeastern communities, were unable to cite a single registered case of violence. However, they claimed that incidents of violence had been reported in Neelsandra, Anepalya and some parts of Wilson Garden and Ejipura.”
More potent were rumours of a planned “reprisal” from the Muslim community, as reported by the Indian Express: “Some employees referred to direct threats of violence after Ramzan being made to them, others referred to an alleged video of a brutal attack in Assam being circulated among Muslims for which reprisals are being planned, while still others referred to alleged warnings from the police itself.”
What’s also striking is that the panic isn’t limited to any one section of these communities. Everyone from chowkidars to IT professionals to students to salon workers is part of the exodus. All the evidence points to a planned campaign, though its unclear who exactly is orchestrating it. Government officials speak of unnamed “fringe elements” but remain vague as to their identity and motives.
But why would such a campaign be so effective in a city not known to be a hotbed of anti-North-East sentiment? No place is immune from its share of bigotry, but it’s fairly muted in Bangalore compared to, say, Delhi. Or does this response prove otherwise? A number of quotes betray a sense of vulnerability, the idea that authorities have little or no interest in protecting people from the North-East.
“We do not want to take any risk as nobody comes to our rescue when we are attacked,” says one woman waiting at the railway station.
“When there is panic and fear we cannot sit back and wait for something to happen. If something happens who will save us,” asks a beauty parlour worker.
This sense of being alone is not unexpected or unique to Bangalore. The racist attitude of the Delhi Police toward Northeastern women is widely known. In Bangalore, the police mishandling of the death of college student Richard Loitam perhaps had greater impact than suspected.
But more importantly, the lack of faith also has to do with attitudes about the current government, which has a notoriously poor track record when it comes to protecting its minorities. This is the same government that has stood idly by fringe Hindutva groups routinely attacked Muslims and Christians, routinely torching churches and beating up interfaith couples. The various incidents of moral policing and harassment of women has added to the sense of living in a hooligan raj.
Minorities in Karnataka can hardly be blamed for believing that the authorities have little interest in protecting anyone who does not belong to one of their favoured constituencies. That the BJP government is also now widely regarded as just plain incompetent and in complete disarray also likely does little to inspire confidence. Why would any community believe Jagadish Shettar—BJP’s third chief minister in four years—when he promises to protect them?
It’s particularly ironic that rightwing thugs like Tajinder Bagga, leader of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena (who made headlines for beating up Prashant Bhushan), is now tweeting out messages of support to his “Northeastern brothers and sisters.” More so, since the right-wingers like him have been eager to spread inflammatory warnings about Muslims on the rampage. “Fatwa issued by Local Muslims to North East Brother’s & Sister’s to leave Bangalore till 20 or ready for Riots,” reads one such Bagga tweet. How helpful then that the BSKS has now established a North East Students Help Line.
Bagga’s real agenda becomes crystal clear in his Facebook updates which cut to the chase: “Dear Supporters of Bangladeshi Migrants, The Things You are doing with our North-East Brother’s & Sister’s in Pune, Bangalore & Hyderabad, don’t try in Delhi. Otherwise we will Cut Your Hands & Legs.”
The RSS too has been quick to jump on the bandwagon, sending 250 swayamsevaks to the station to offer “full security to all North-East Indians”. This is the same RSS that has been alleging that the North-East is a hotbed of secession due to missionaries determined to convert hapless tribals — which was also the excuse used to justify the 2008 church attacks in Karnataka by none other than then CM Yeddyurappa who called it a “natural reaction to forced conversions”.
One can only wonder why our “Northeastern brothers and sisters”—many of whom are Christians and therefore likely attend church in Bangalore—fail to be reassured by such expressions of support.
It would be expedient to dismiss the Bangalore exodus as a bizarre anomaly, or the over-reaction of a minority community, or a lesson in the perils of the internet. More comforting still to ignore what it reveals: a chronic sense of insecurity and fear that simmers just beneath the surface of this cosmopolitan and diverse city, easily triggered by the first hint of violence. People run when they feel unsafe and unprotected. The exodus is the legacy of the past four years of violence, harassment and wilful government apathy; of moral policing, religious intolerance, and bad governance. We ignore it at our peril.