25,000 from N-E flee Bangalore in 3 days
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When a special train left the Bangalore City railway station for Guwahati at 3:45 pm on Friday, a total of 20,000 unreserved tickets had been issued by the Railways to people from the Northeast, mostly from Assam, in just three days.
With crowds of people continuing to throng the station through Friday evening, the total number of people to have fled Bangalore since August 15 is expected to cross 25,000 by midnight, when the last train of the week for Guwahati is scheduled to leave.
In the last three days, the Railways have operated nine trains choc-a-block with people to Guwahati, including six special trains apart from the Guwahati Express that runs at 11:35 pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. At least one more special train was expected to ply on Friday.
The Karnataka government's efforts to bring together people from various Northeast communities, members of civil society, Muslim legislators and leaders from various sections of society were not successful in stemming the exodus of nearly 20 per cent of the population of Northeast people in Bangalore.
While the people who participated in peace meetings with the police and political leaders belong to a college-educated, well-off class living in middle-class localities around Bangalore, people who are leaving the city are found to be largely working-class people living in cheap accommodations around the city and in areas with minority populations.
Most people on the trains had either not heard of assurances of safety in Bangalore and were leaving because their friends were all leaving under perceived threats or because their families back home had asked them to return.
"After we finished the meetings with the Chief Minister and the police chief on Thursday, I had felt reassured. But once I was home, there was a continuous stream of phone calls from our people living in minority-dominated areas of hints of threats to them. They want to leave and ask me what to do. I don't know what to say because they live in minority areas where there may be trouble,'' said Dr Angam Haokib, president of the Northeast Christian Forum in Bangalore.
"Many of us live in places where we are confident of the security. I have lived in Bangalore for 18 years and I know it as a peaceful place. Most of our young people, however, live in Muslim areas because they are the most affordable in Bangalore. If they are perceiving hints of threats that never existed before then we cannot persuade them to stay,'' said Dr Haokib.
He reported incidences of an unprovoked attack on a Manipuri boy in the Wilson Garden area where a complaint was lodged and suggestions made at a nursing college for Northeast students to leave.
Three Muslim legislators from Bangalore — Roshan Baig, N A Harris and Nazeer Ahmed — were also present at a peace meeting attended by leaders from the Northeast on Thursday. They assured that the Northeast community members would be provided shelter in mosques if necessary.
"How many times can we give assurances? In normal circumstances, an assurance by the Chief Minister and the police chief serves to dispel fears. In this case, that does not seem to be working as people seem to be perceiving threats despite assurances,'' said a senior police officer engaged in assuaging the fears of people from the Northeast.
At the Bangalore railway station, where people have been gathering in droves, a large number of the fleeing people are Assamese, of which several are Bodos.
"We have heard some of the assurances but if we live in Bangalore there is always a threat to our lives. Somebody can walk into our rooms here and attack us, we will have no protection. Back home, no outsider will enter our villages. Many Bodos are outside their homes... we would all like to be back with our families because they are calling us back,'' said Sandip, a Bodo youth who worked for 18 months as a security guard in Bangalore.
Some Bodo youths hinted at a simmering anger within them and the possibility of joining Bodo groups.
But Birjon, a cook at the Bowring Institute, an old recreational club in Bangalore, who was waiting at the railway station to leave for Assam, said he felt safe in Bangalore after all the assurances but was forced to go home since he would otherwise be all alone.
"I will come back after two months. My family has been asking me to return as well,'' he said.
The large numbers of youths fleeing Bangalore under a perceived threat from the minority community is a matter of serious concern for the Northeast since minority communities are very small in that region, said Dr Haokib. Sources in the security establishment also expressed similar concerns.
With no trains for the Northeast scheduled after Friday, the exodus is expected to ebb over the weekend.
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