As the Guwahati Express rolled out of the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus here on Saturday, it carried a thousand passengers above capacity. Although the station was not teeming with worried migrants from the north-east as in earlier days, railway employees said there was a slight increase in the number of passengers. Most of them were contract labourers working in milk, meat and bread factories in Mumbai and its industrial townships.
Lolita, a young woman who has been working in a milk factory since 2008, felt the “trouble” that gripped Assam could haunt Mumbai too. In an indication that the government’s assurance has not eased fears, she told The Hindu: “It is better to go before anything happens. The Maharashtra government has told the Assamese people to leave, or so I have heard.”
She was part of a group of 10 persons from Sonitpur.
Many passengers reacted to rumours of impending violence after August 20. “Our families are saying, ‘come back before the 20th. There could be something.’ We have no security away from home. The police assured us that they would give security, but what if I am attacked while I am on my way to work?,” asked Achyut Bora, a factory worker from Sonitpur.
Some like Ravi Pradhan, a hairdresser from Darjeeling, felt the need to go to the safety of home with his wife. “Parents will care about their children. They are calling us back. We will come back when the situation has eased.”
In response to appeals that they stay back, some passengers carried placards that read: ‘We will be back soon.’ And there was also a provocative placard against Bangladeshi migrants.
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party, distributed fliers that urged the people to stay back. ABVP members carried banners and flags and made announcements on the microphone. “If you cancel your trip, you will be safe in Mumbai. But if you must go, come back soon,” they said.
“The ABVP and the Rashtriyaswayam Sevak Sangh are the two organisations active on the issue,” ABVP State organising secretary Devdutta Joshi said.
“There is pressure on them to return… There can be rumours. We have been to all student hostels trying to allay fears,” he said.
Members of the Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Maharashtra were also at the station. “We bring the message of peace, that people are safe here. The government has assured people of safety, but it has failed to allay their fears. It’s a conspiracy that people from all over the country are leaving [for home in the northeast]. Fear has been created in their minds.”
“We are not fleeing Gujarat”
Manas Dasgupta reports from Ahmedabad:
With the Centre’s assurances and the ban on bulk SMSs failing to stop the exodus, the Western Railways was forced to add additional coaches to Assam-bound trains from Gujarat to cater to the rush.
An official spokesman said here on Saturday that at least 100 extra passengers boarded the Okha-Guwahati Express that left Ahmedabad on Friday night after the railways added two coaches in the 22-coach train.
For a change, however, the migrant workers from the northeast said they wanted to return home not because of any panic, as they had not faced any untoward incident in any part of Gujarat so far, but because they were worried about their families and friends back home after they received urgent calls asking them to return immediately.
After the train left Ahmedabad, at least 500 more passengers from the northeast, — working in Vadodara, Ankleshwar, Broach and other places in central and south Gujarat, as well as the Union Territories of Daman and Dadra and Nagar Haveli — also jumped into the train to reach Guwahati at the earliest.
Keywords: Northeasterners exodus