Northeast exodus: A one-way ticket to home
The Times of India
Baithi lay sprawled on the floor of Chennai Central railway station on Friday evening. He had his last meal of sambhar, rice and pickle at a ramshackle eating joint at Srinivaspurum more than 10 hours ago. Waiting for the Bangalore-Guwahati Express, the 40-year-old from Darjeeling looked haggard.
"They say we will be killed if we stay here. I don't know where I will get my next meal, but I am leaving ," said Baithi, a contract labourer at Chennai port. About 15km away, James, Jennifer and Solomon, all in their twenties and all hailing from Nagaland, were enjoying the evening in the balcony of their rented house in Taramani. "The rumours are baseless ," said James, who works with an IT company in Tidel Park. Solomon, a TCS employee, was nonplussed as he listens to the news of people leaving the city.
"We feel safe here. We've never had a problem ." said Jennifer, who teaches in a primary school in Sholinganallur. When cruel rumours have a field day, it's a class struggle out there. That's when the friendless Baithis flee for their lives and the reassured Jennifers stay put. That's when the blue collar is drenched in the sweat of fear; when the lathi-wielding policeman's promises to protect him don't match the scare of the unknown. That's when some 2,000 of the working class squeeze themselves in the aisles and toilets of unreserved train coaches, leaving their livelihood to get back to their homeland they love yet dread. Most of them were tired even before the gruelling 48-hour train journey to Assam followed by another overnight bus journey to Manipur or Nagaland. Sustenance had brought them here.
Ngalu from Manipur works in BYD Electronics which pays him Rs 6,000 a month. His friend Alang has been receiving frantic calls from his family. "You can earn only if you are alive," his mother had told him. The official statements offering police protection rarely reach the huddles of the working class.
"All they get to hear are the rumours," says Dharam Singh, who works for the branches of an oriental restaurant in Chennai and Bangalore. He took a train to Guwahati along with his wife and three-week-old baby. Charles, who came to Chennai five years ago to work in a sugar manufacturing company, said whether the threat was real or not, he could no longer say no to his mother who insists that he returns home. "I have been sending Rs 2,000 every month. She says she doesn't want the money. She wants me back," he said. They all know things are not better in their native towns in the northeast. "Once the situation improves, we will return here," said Angeu of Assam.
'I don't trust anyone, no one is going to care for us'
The Times of India
BANGALORE: For the third consecutive day on Friday, there was no let up in the number northeasterners who turned up in panic at the City railway station. The messages of reassurance from the state government, police and community leaders seem to have had no impact on the migrants, if one went by the milling crowds at the station.
"I don't care if I have a seat in the train or not, I am happy I have got tickets for myself. I just want to reach home safely and see my parents," said Prerna Thakuri, native of Darjeeling, West Bengal, who took the day's first special train to Guwahati which left the city at 3pm. Prerna runs a readymade food selling business in BTM Layout, while two of her brothers work in a hotel.
"I am not sure what is going on but I am afraid. My parents are worried and the situation is worsening in Assam. I just want to be with my parents and family at this time," said Narul Bora, 27, security officer at an industry in Jigani. Narul, a native of Tejpur district in Assam, is hopeful he can come back soon.
But many migrants are unsure whether they will ever return to Bangalore. They believe that their safety is not assured in Bangalore notwithstanding assurances from ministers, police, lawyers, ABVP and media. "I don't trust anyone. Even my employer said that I should leave the city, which means that no one is going to care for us," said Raju Chetri, labourer from Assam, working in Bannerghatta.
"We would have stayed back if our employers had assured us their support and help, but instead they said we should leave the city," said Anu Pradhan, a Nepal national and Darjeeling resident, who works in a salon inside the campus of an IT major in Electronics City.
Techie does his bit
Abhishek Rajpal, a techie, was among those who sought to reach out to the panic-stricken migrants on Friday. Rajpal was seen talking to northeasterners at the City railway station and assuring that the situation in Bangalore did not warrant them fleeing. "It is so disturbing that I could not resist coming here and trying to stop them from returning home," said Rajpal.
Besides India Against Corruption, ABVP and RSS activists, some lawyers from the City civil court too were at the station to dissuade the migrants from leaving the city.
Exodus on, curb on texts
K.M. RAKESH, The Telegraph
Bangalore, Aug. 17: The exodus of northeastern citizens from Bangalore continued today despite paramilitary forces being deployed in the city to build confidence.
The Centre banned bulk text and multi-media messages across the country for 15 days to check the spread of rumours and threats: no one will be able to send more than five text messages at one go.
Delhi also moved to act on longstanding complaints of bias against Northeast students, directing the vice-chancellors of all central universities to ensure their safety on their campuses. Nearly 20,000 students from the region study in Delhi alone.
Hopes of an easing of the exodus had risen in the afternoon with a special Bangalore-to-Guwahati train leaving with several empty seats. Scheduled for a 2pm departure, the train was made to wait till 3.30pm but still didn’t fill up, and railway sources said no more special trains would be operated today.
However, with hundreds more arriving at the station in the evening, a second special train was run at 8pm and officials said a third could be plied later at night apart from the tri-weekly Bangalore-Guwahati Express.
Also, over 1,000 Northeast citizens took trains out of Chennai today and about 450 boarded the Falaknuma Express and East Coast Express from Secunderabad.
Three CRPF and RAF companies each were deployed in sensitive parts of Bangalore, in addition to 24x7 police patrolling.
Home minister R. Ashok said six rumour-mongers had been arrested late this evening for sending threat texts but did not reveal their identities. “The government is doing its best but the feedback I have received from the (Northeast) people is that they are returning as their families back home are worried,” he said.
He said most of the panicky migrants had had no first-hand experience of any harassment. “It’s always someone who saw a message, or ‘my friend’s friend’ who was harassed. Our probe will fix responsibility for this mess.”
Earlier, an attack on a Manipuri youth sent shockwaves through Bangalore till the police clarified it was an attempted robbery. Three youths tried to mug Lialiatiaphai, 22, and two friends at Wilson Garden. The police have arrested Abrar Ahmed, 22, Salman, 21, and Vinay, 22.
The first case of a bias attack on a northeasterner was booked after Thokchom Bikash, a Manipuri worker, alleged a threat from two motorbike riders on Wednesday night. The police also registered a case after a Manipuri youth was beaten up by a gang but said it could be a matter of personal enmity.
Ashok met visiting Assam ministers Nilamani Sen Deka and Chandan Brahma and accompanied them to the railway station.
‘Not panicking, just worried’
For Tenzing Dolkar, Thursday was just another workday. Well, almost. The 25-year-old Tibetan who lives in Borivli and works in the banking sector, is not biting the mass exodus bait. But she isn’t letting her guard down either.
Dolkar is among the many worried Mumbaikars hailing from Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Tibet who have ruled out fleeing the city in the wake of fears of being targeted on communal lines. “Yes, I feel a little threatened and we are taking preventive measures to ensure that there’s no trouble. But I’m not leaving the city,” insists Dolkar.
There are around 1.25 lakh citizens from the northeast, including 20,000 from Assam, living in Mumbai and its suburbs. Most have made the city their home over the decades. Besides, a large number of students from the northeast pursue their higher studies in the city.
Dolkar, who has been in the city for a few years now, says, “We haven’t faced any untoward incident, but we are alert.”
Devashish Sharma, deputy resident commissioner of Assam Bhavan, says, “So far, not a single case of people wanting to go back to their hometowns has come to our notice.”
An employee of Meghalaya government who is now stationed in the city says fear may be playing mind games with people from the northeast.
Sana Shaikh hails from Darjeeling but calls Mumbai her home since she has been here since birth. Shaikh, who works at a beauty parlour in Mahim, says, “I’ve not faced any problem to date. My cousins also live in the city and we are not afraid of any backlash.”
Bhandup resident Tsering Paldon, who has been here for four years now, echoes Shaikh’s confidence. The 25-year-old chef says she has been too busy with work “to worry about what has not yet happened”. “It’s normal here. Why should I be scared?” The Tibetan says she will not leave the city even if there is trouble.