“I am telling you there is no problem with the city. It is just that we are scared and we don’t want to die,” said Chamanlal Birj (24), from Dhubri district of Assam, an attendant at an IT company here. He hesitates when asked about what will happen to his livelihood. “I may not have the job. I think I am going home for good,” he says. A sense of panic was evident in the over 2,000 workers from the Northeastern States who were crowding at Egmore and Central railway stations on Thursday night. But what equally stood out was a sense of resignation, evident in the repeated assertions by many that they might not come back.
Most of them attribute the fear to messages from friends in Bangalore and continuous phone calls from home, asking them to come back. Over 7,500 people are reported to have fled Bangalore on Thursday in the aftermath of rumours that there may be attacks against them after the recent violence in Assam. “Everyday, we get calls from our friends that members of our community have been beaten to death and the next target is Chennai. Who will protect us here?” asks Dinesh, who works in the parking lot of a hotel. As they lay on the platforms, clutching their luggage close, many of them kept insisting they had no complaints from the city.
“My employer is a good man. He pays me Rs 5,000 a month and gives a month’s break,” says Debendra. His parents are farm labourers in a village near Guwahati and his two brothers also work here as security guards in a mall. His cellphone inbox has at least 15 messages all of which say “This fight is not against you. It is against illegal migrants. Wake up now.”
“It is meant for all of us who leave our homes only so that we and our families survive,” says Debendra.
Most of the fleeing workers hail from Dibrugarh, Gholaghat, Nagaon, Baksa and Silchar districts of Assam. “There are no companies there and very few jobs. Even a graduate cannot get a job,” says Bhumidhar, who works at a burger shop at Besant Nagar. Members of his community meet once a month at one of their rooms and cook Assamese food. “We live in groups in Santhome or Pattinapakkam and we are a very close-knit community. We have decided to leave because we don’t want to take risks.”
“It is good that we don’t let our sisters come here too, unlike many other communities,” says Doru, a telephone operator in a company here. “No one will come to the rescue when they come to kill us. Today, the company that I worked for over three years asked me to finish duty and then leave,” he adds. The fear is not limited to the Assamese community alone. A pastor for the Manipuri communities said he has been receiving innumerable calls from terrified people. “We are arranging special mass for them. They are all getting very jittery. Yesterday, we met and we distributed important police numbers too to ensure safety,” he said.
“The most frightened are those who work as helpers, attendants, security guards, salesmen. The relatively affluent ones are calm,” he added. A contractor for migrant workers said there has been no hiring of workers from Assam in the past two months. “The ones here also want to leave. Some want to come back after Ramzan to prevent risk but employers are not allowing them to leave.”