15-day ban on bulk SMS & MMS
NISHIT DHOLABHAI, The Telegraph
New Delhi, Aug. 17: The government finally swung into action today by banning bulk SMS and MMS for 15 days to stem rumour-mongering while surfers spilled beans on websites with doctored images to fan communal flames.
The government had so far seemed out of sync to block rumours that led to exodus of people from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and other cities since Wednesday and instil confidence among people. In fact, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said he would ensure trains for people returning to the Northeast. The scene changed today as coherence was visible in Parliament and in North Block.
Union home secretary R.K. Singh said, “We have asked for a 15-day ban on bulk SMS and MMS. We are monitoring social websites to identify those who are spreading rumours. Exodus has stopped a bit and state governments, particularly Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, are doing good work. We have sent advisory to all states.” The CBI and a special investigation team of Mumbai police are also investigating the larger conspiracy angle of all events from Assam to Pune.
Websites like http://mumblingminion.blogspot.in, which under the headline “Manufacturing Affliction” showed gruesome pictures of alleged “Muslims killed in Myanmar”, were actually altered. One of the photographs is of a group of monks overseeing disposal of hundreds of corpses. The caption reads: “The body of Muslims slaughtered by Buddhist (Barma)”.
The Mumbai protest organised by Raza Academy was not only for Muslims killed in Assam but also against atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. There have been sporadic clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine over the past few months.
However, as the website spills the beans, the maroon-robed monks seen on the website are Tibetans and not Burmese and the “killed” people are victims of the deadly earthquake that hit Tibet in April 2010 and not Rohingyas. Informing the Centre of this, the central Tibetan administration of the Tibetan government-in-exile expressed concern over the propaganda earlier this week.
This “blogwar” on the Net showed that there were responsible surfers, too. DMK MP Kanimozhi pointed out in Rajya Sabha today that suggestions to control social media was unfair. “You cannot go back on technology, you cannot go back in time,” she said.
“It was this propaganda that fanned flames in Mumbai…,” said Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (Northeast) in the ministry of home affairs.
But this only seems to be the tip of the iceberg as the photograph has appeared on several websites, especially in Islamic states.
The propaganda clubbed the purported “Myanmar” pictures with India’s Northeast, which neighbours Myanmar, leading to stray attacks such as the stabbing of a Tibetan youth in Karnataka on Tuesday.
These may have been the inspiration behind a violent protest in Lucknow today by a mob of 2,000 that marched towards the Assembly building and damaged cars, stoned the police, attacked journalists, vandalised government offices and forcibly shut shops.
They were shouting slogans against the violence in Assam and Myanmar. Principal secretary (home) R.M. Srivastava’s vehicle came under attack but he escaped unhurt. Similar protests were seen in Allahabad and Kanpur.
As the government woke up to the danger of rumour-mongering through mobile phone messages, the home ministry asked service providers to stop transmission of all messages above 20kB. After the bulk SMS ban, a mobile phone user will not be able to send more than five SMSs in a batch.
Fear Sparks Bangalore Exodus
The Wall Street Journal India
BANGALORE, India—Thousands of panic-stricken Indians from the northeast were fleeing the southern city of Bangalore, spurred by rumors they would be attacked in retaliation for communal violence in their home state.
Northeastern Indian residents of Bangalore wait in a train this week to leave the city following rumors of communal violence against them.
Hundreds of students and workers from Assam state crowded Bangalore's main railway station to try to board trains heading out of the city, while officials tried in vain to assure them of their safety. People pushed and shoved and some climbed in through train windows to make it past the crush at the doors.
The exodus followed clashes in Assam in recent weeks between members of the indigenous Bodo tribe and Muslims who killed more than 50 people and left 400,000 in displacement camps. The violence has spilled to other states where Bodos and other ethnic tribe members from the poor northeast have migrated in search of jobs.
Rup Kumar Das was leaving his work at a sofa factory in Bangalore on Tuesday when two men approached and asked him where he was from. "I thought they were being friendly so I said, 'Assam,'" said Mr. Das, 27.
That reply, he said, earned him three punches and left him with a split tongue and black eye. Standing with his black suitcase in Bangalore City Station on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Das was one of approximately 6,000 Assamese and Indians from other northeastern states trying to leave the city on what has become something of an exodus.
"I said I didn't want to fight with them," Mr. Das said, explaining that he identified the men who beat him up as Muslim from their attire.
Decades of ethnic strife and turmoil in India's northeast have forced hundreds of thousands of young people to move out of the region in search of education and employment opportunities. They find jobs mostly in the service sector in the big cities, working in restaurants, shops and airlines.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned those threatening the unity of the country and assured migrants from the northeast of their safety.
Authorities in the state of Kerala, where Bangalore is located, said no one had seen any threatening text messages and authoritiesthey were trying to find out who was behind the rumors. He said police and security forces were on alert and telephone helplines had been set up to give a sense of security to people in the city.
Despite the official's assurances, Mr. Das said his boss, Santosh Kumar, brought him and three other Assamese workers to the station to catch a train to take passengers back to Assam.
"Bangalore faces a major labor crisis if all the Northeasterners leave," said Mr. Kumar, who said he has assured his workers they can return once the threat of trouble subsides.
Northeasterners have experienced run-ins with Muslims in other parts of the country, such as Pune, in western India. In Mumbai, when Muslim groups held a protest against the riots, the demonstration got out of hand, forcing police to open fire, leaving two dead.
On top of that, in recent days a text message has been circulating in Bangalore, urging northeasterners to head home.
Neha Tamang, 27, has only been in Bangalore for two months working as a shop assistant. She's from Darjeeling in West Bengal but her features mean she is almost indistinguishable from someone from Assam.
"I heard about the news in the papers and then my family called to tell me to come home," Ms. Tamang said as she carried her bag to the ticket counter. "I don't know how long we'll go for it's very sad. Hopefully I'll still have job when I come back."
As they arrived at the station, these passengers were greeted by politicians and members of India Against Corruption–Anna Hazare's outfit–urging them to remain in Bangalore. "Don't leave," one banner read, "Bangalore is yours."
Earlier in the day Muslim students also appeared at the station, the Indian newswire IANS reported, carrying placards that read, "Don't leave Bangalore, dear Assamese friends. We love you!"
Suresh Kumar, Bangalore's law minister, had been at the station entrance since the morning. "We are convincing them that their safety and protection is guaranteed from the state government," he said.
He showed the text message that police believe to be at the root of panic that has gripped Bangalore's estimated 40,000-strong northeastern migrant population. So far, this is the only major Indian city to experience this mass rush to leave.
"Our cyber branch is trying to find out who sent it, whether it was inside or outside the state," said Mr. Kumar. India's new home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, told a CNN-IBN reporter that an inquiry was underway.
The message says northeasterners should call back their family members from other parts of the country and that four men from the northeast had been killed in Bangalore and that more attacks are imminent. The message says this is happening because of the Assam riots. Mr. Kumar called it a "scurrilous message," saying no such killings have occurred.
But many in the crowd are departing not so much because they fear attacks in Bangalore but because of concern for family back in Assam.
"We are very afraid of problems in Assam and I'm going to see my family is all right," said 31-year-old Pingu Gogy.
Curfew was imposed Thursday in the town of Rangiya in Assam, after a mob set fire to a wooden bridge across a river, said J.N. Choudhury, a top police officer in the state. Elsewhere in the state, protesters forced passengers out of a bus and set it ablaze, police said.
On Saturday, two people died and dozens were injured in Mumbai in clashes between police and thousands of Muslims protesting the deaths of Muslims in rioting last month in Assam. Police fired guns into the air to disperse the protesters, who threw rocks and damaged about a dozen buses and police vans in India's financial hub.
Outbreaks of violence have also been reported from the southern city of Hyderabad and the western cities of Pune and Nashik, said Bijoya Chakravarty, a lawmaker from Karnataka.
The Bodos and the Muslim settlers, who mostly came from the former East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh in 1971, have clashed repeatedly over the years but the recent violence is the worst since the mid-1990s.
A version of this article appeared August 17, 2012, on page A8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Fear Sparks Bangalore Exodus.