The tension that fuelled the mass exodus of northeast residents from Bangalore, which continued for the second consecutive day on Thursday, had been festering for the past week.
There had been several cases of physical and verbal intimidation, Johnson Rajkumar, assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication, St. Joseph’s College of Arts and Science, in Bangalore told The Hindu in an interview.
Mr. Rajkumar, who is from Manipur, also said that there was little evidence of the perpetrators being members of a particular minority community and that “third-party involvement” could not be ruled out given that both groups, now being projected as victims and attackers, are from “minority groups that have historically been persecuted in the nationalistic discourse”.
Q: What is the situation on the ground? What has triggered panic so widespread that thousands are packing up, leaving behind their lives and livelihood, and fleeing the city?
A: Initially, we thought these are all rumours; but over the past two days we have met people who have faced verbal and physical intimidation.
At Neelasandra, for instance, some of my students were pelted with stones near the bus-stop en route to college, and they were called by a pejorative termWe cannot confirm which community they belonged to. We hear of some deadline being imposed leading us to believe that they are members of a certain community, but these could be mischief-makers from anywhere. In some cases, these so-called attackers are also seeking to identify Assamese people.
What triggered these rumours in the first place?
The first shocking messages referred to the killing of four northeast residents at Neelasandra. This went viral. Slowly, people started reporting other cases, leading us to believe that there is indeed a percentage of truth to this.
However, there have been instances where they have asked us to leave, in good faith. For instance, my landlord, who is a Muslim, said there was no problem or animosity as such, but that it would be safe if I stayed away for two or three weeks. Many want to be cautious.
Does the exodus mainly comprise working people from the city?
Yes. Students feel more secure because they are protected by the institutions they are part of. Whereas, the working class is completely disconnected, and therefore feel less secure. There is a sense of insecurity among them, because they are a vulnerable section and there is already a fear psychosis among them.
It has now emerged that certain right-wing groups could have played a role in fuelling panic, with some spreading misinformation on social media and blogs…
Yes. There could be a third party involved in this situation. Here, we are talking about two minority groups that have historically been persecuted in the nationalistic discourse. So, this is a dream come true for fringe groups who are using the opportunity to brand Muslims as “anti-Indian”.
I was surprised to see that much before the State and police took notice of this issue, a certain fundamentalist group opened a helpline, and even posted misleading messages claiming a fatwa had been declared against people from the northeast.
I think slowly even people from the northeast living here are recognising the possibility of a third-party hand in the way events are unfolding.