Thousands of panic-stricken people of the northeast living here boarded trains, headed to Guwahati, on Wednesday night, following rumours of violence targeting them.
This even after Karnataka Home Minister R. Ashok visited the Bangalore Central railway station and made repeated appeals to the thronging crowds to stay put in Bangalore, which has a substantial number of northeastern migrants, including students and working professionals, in the services and security sector.
In view of an unprecedented demand for tickets late on Wednesday evening, the South-Western Railway decided to run two special trains, apart from the scheduled Bangalore-Guwahati Express, beyond 11 p.m.
Even these trains appeared to be insufficient to accommodate the swelling number of people who had gathered, bag and baggage, to leave the city. While 6,927 general category tickets were sold, the crowd gathered at the station, according to police estimates, was at least 9,000, with a steady stream of anxious people coming in even past midnight. Railway sources said each train had 22 ‘general-sitting’ compartments, accommodating at least 2,000. However, the trains were packed, and a stampede-like situation was witnessed as soon as each train pulled into platform 4.
With many more passengers expected to travel on Thursday, Divisional Railway Manager A.K. Agarwal said one more special was being planned by cancelling a passenger train.
During his whirlwind visit at the station, Mr. Ashok told mediapersons that security had been provided on all trains along the route to prevent any “untoward incident.” “Don’t heed rumours. Not even a single case of violence has been reported,” he said, to an angry audience, who alleged that the police had not responded to complaints made by victims in the last few days.
Earlier in the evening, it is learnt, Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar spoke to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and assured them that the State government would ensure protection to those from the Northeast.
Many of those who spoke to The Hindu admitted that they did not “directly” know of any cases of violence. However, they said there was an “atmosphere of fear and mistrust” across the city. They said the Assam media was reporting on violent incidents in Bangalore and Mysore, creating panic both here and back home. Charles, a 10-year-old resident of Bangalore and native of Sikkim, who works in a restaurant here, said there was an “atmosphere of fear” here. “We do not want to take any risk. We are hearing many stories of how northeasterners are being roughed up, either by Muslims or those trying to take advantage of the situation.” Along with him, a group of 16 boys, and three girls, belonging to different States from the northeast, was set to go back home.