Students from the Northeast still fear being persecuted
People from the community are desperate to return home as they don’t want to take ‘chances’ despite assurances from the police
The Karnataka Police on Thursday made an attempt in vain to calm the fears of the Northeastern community in Bengaluru and other cities across the state by saying that the situation was under control and enough safety measures were in place to stop any untoward incident.
In a press conference organised on Thursday along with several Muslim political and religious leaders, state director-general of police (DGP) Lalrokhuma Pachau said, “We are taking all measures to ensure people’s safety across the state and protect them from being attacked or harmed by anyone, as security of citizens is our foremost duty. We request all, including the media to allay fears of any attack on students from the North-east region or any part of the country and report to the nearest police station on rumour-mongers who are trying to create fear.”
Even when the police have assured a constant vigil and patrolling of areas inhabited by the Northeastern community in Bengaluru, many felt it is better to leave than to get stuck if any untoward incident that may take place.
Confirming his fears, Pronov (26), an Assamese student of French Language said, “Even though the police have assured us, we don’t want to take any chances. My parents have asked me to come back home, hence I will be leaving today.”
For the 2.5 lakh strong Northeastern community here, the past week has been no less than a nightmare. With wild rumours spreading that the people from the region would be attacked after the ensuing Ramdhan festival (Id-ul-Fitr) August 20 to avenge the ethnic violence, which led to 74 deaths in Lower Assam, sparked fears of retaliatory attacks.
Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar has assured the Northeastern community of full protection and swift action against the culprits. “Our police will offer full protection to you all. There is no reason to worry. Believe in our government and not in rumours,” Shettar told about 200 Northeastern students who thronged his official residence to express concern over their safety and security in light of wild rumours that they would be attacked in retaliation for the month-long ethnic violence in Lower Assam.
“We have set up two helplines in the city police control room to deal with complaints about any threat or warning to you by anyone in person or through any medium. We have set up special squads to act against rumour-mongers and mischievous elements. No need to fear about your safety and security,” Shettar assured the students.
State deputy chief minister R Ashoka, who also holds the home portfolio, said the helplines – 080-2225-0999 and 080-2294-2222 in the control room will be accessible on a 24x7 basis.
“You can also call Bengaluru deputy commissioner of police (intelligence) Vincent S. D’Souza on 0-94808-01020 for help or advice. We have intensified patrolling and stepped up security in and around colleges, offices, public places, markets, railway stations, bus stands and in localities across the city where Northeastern students reside in large numbers,” Ashoka said.
Despite the assured protection, Janko Len Honki, President of the Kuki Association said, “Even though the chief minister has assured us protection, but I don’t think the Northeastern students would be willing to stay back, as most of them are afraid.”
While the community in their memorandum to the CM has listed more than 14 incidents of attacks on the Northeastern community in the past one week, barring one, none have filed a complaint with the police. Even CM Shettar said that not a single incident of attack on them was reported or a complaint filed with the police so far.
Laurence Liang of Alternative Lawyers Forum informed that a complaint has been filed at the Ashoknagar police station of assault and intimidation. Even after repeated efforts, however, Bikash the complainant was unavailable for comment.
According to the memorandum given to Shettar, seven places in Bengaluru (Neelsandra, Austin town, Anepalya, Audugodi, Wilson Garden, RT Nagar and Kamanahlli) have been listed where the presence of people from the Northeast has been highly concentrated and where incidents of attacks have been reported. However, none of the victims has come forward to record his/her statement either to the police or to the media.
Golun Nolak, a politicial science lecturer at St Joseph’s College said, “Fear among the Northeastern students community has gripped and they are afraid to even come out and report. “We are trying very hard to convince them to stay back, and have even asked the 350 Northeastern students to stay in the college if they want to.” A similar arrangement has been made in Christ and Mount Carmel college, where large numbers of students from the Northeast are pursuing their studies informed Golan, who himself was threatened that his throat would be slit.
Meanwhile, Zedino Seyie, a native of Nagaland, studying second year BA in a city college was asked to vacate her house by her Muslim landlord in Chinnappa Garden on Sunday night without any explanation. “The landlord had sent his men who forced me to vacate and returned the advance amount after deducting one month’s rent and cleaning charges,” said Seyie. Northeastern Students Forum said similar incidents of students being asked to vacate their rented accommodations have been reported in many places. Monica Khanbegam said that the owners are saying that they don’t want any trouble and are asking the students to vacate immediately, leaving some of them to find shelter either in their friends’ houses or spend the nights on the streets.
“We had to scramble to arrange at such a short notice two special trains of 20-22 coaches each around midnight to Guwahati in addition to the daily Bangalore-Guwahati Express and Bangalore-Howrah Express as 6,000 unreserved tickets were sold since Wednesday afternoon at the city railway station booking counters,” said South Western Railway spokesman Suvankar Biswas.
As regular trains to Howrah and Guwahati were fully booked for over a week due to holidays since Wednesday till Monday, all those who were desperate to leave the city were forced to buy unreserved tickets and board the first available train to Assam.
“Even those who could not get reservation to Howrah or Guwahati opted to buy tickets up to Chennai so as to catch any Northeast bound trains from there. This is the first time we are seeing such a big surge in tickets sales for these trains on a single day that too in an off-season,” Biswas said.
Meanwhile, rightwing organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (AVBP) and even Tajinder Bagga, leader of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena (who made headlines for beating up Prashant Bhushan), tried to cash in on the sentiments of the Northeastern community. While the RSS prachraks in their Khaki shorts tied Rakhis, and vowed to defend them, the AVBP set up a help desk at the railway station. Prem, Secretary of the ABVP Bengaluru circle said, “We have set up a help desk here and are willing to provide shelter to whosoever is seeking.”
Meanwhile, assurance and support have started pouring in for the Northeastern community from across the nation promising them necessary support to safeguard their interests. A joint peace march and Eid Iftar have also been announced on 20 August by the local civil society.
So far, however, the police have been unable to crack the origin of the SMS and a fake video clip accusing the Assamese of butchering Muslims or make any arrests in this regard.
Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
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