THE SUNDAY STORY Sociologists as well as political and cultural commentators are struggling to analyse the immediate trigger for the exodus of northeasterners from cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.

Sociologists as well as political and cultural commentators are struggling to analyse the immediate trigger for the exodus of northeasterners from cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.

“To be honest, I am stupefied by such a phenomenon on such a large scale and at such short notice,” says Yogendra Yadav, a social and political scientist with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “We must acknowledge the wider background issue of people from northeastern States facing a sense of alienation and exclusion…of not being welcome, and looked at as a stranger in their own country.”

However, he says, it is harder to identify specific incidents which would justify such an exodus. “In almost all previous cases — Kashmiri Pandits leaving the Valley, Muslims leaving Gujarat — there have been acts of violence, a massacre that provoked people to flee in large numbers. Here, I cannot see any such clear relationship between cause and effect.”

Sociologist Amita Baviskar feels that, to a certain extent, the current situation echoes the scenario after the Bombay riots of 1992, when many Muslim migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar fled the city. “It is not just about a community being stigmatised and targeted, but also this idea of a homeland, and people being outsiders, not belonging, that is at play here,” she says.

Historian Ramachandra Guha wondered why his cosmopolitan city is at the heart of this exodus. “It is distressing, but also very puzzling. It seems to be a case of hysteria, fed by rumours. It is utterly mysterious,” he said. “One can’t even look at it in the communal terms of the Assam conflict — most people from the northeast in Bangalore are Christians, neither Hindus nor Muslims.”

He felt that the lack of institutional credibility has stoked the flames of fear. “In the India of today, no one trusts the police or the state in general to protect an innocent person. If there is a stray incident of violence, people don’t have the certainty that the police will take care of it, that it will not spread.”

The building sense of insecurity and a lack of confidence in authority have contributed to the panic, says Parismita Singh, a graphic novelist and writer from Assam, now based in New Delhi. “There’s this whole section of people without faith in the police. If you have found that your complaints in daily life — whether sexual harassment or racist attacks, or simply a conflict with your landlord — are not taken seriously by the police, if you have found it difficult to register an FIR in normal times, then what will you feel in such a threatening situation?”