In Bangalore, Northeast life interrupted

August 19, 2012

Perched midway between Bangalore’s Kodihalli and Indiranagar neighbourhoods, the Glitz beauty parlour has been shut for the last several days. There is little surprise in finding out why. A favourite for locals, it normally buzzes with activity every evening. But the six women who run it are from Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, two states in northeast India.

The people who come from these states, with their proximity to Bhutan, China and Myanmar, often resemble people from east Asia rather than India. Thousands of them, drawn to better-paying jobs in other parts of India, have fled cities such as Mysore, Bangalore and Pune after threats of violence at the hands of Muslims angry about clashes in Assam between Muslim illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Indian Bodo tribespeople that have left nearly 80 people dead and 400,000 interned in squalid refugee camps.

Clearly, the women at Glitz did not believe the central government’s assurances from New Delhi that Bangalore is safe after widespread rumours delivered by text message that their lives were in danger.

“Kuch SMS aaya, aur woh log chupke se chala gaya,” said the landlord in broken Hindi, meaning, “They received some SMS messages, and then they just ran away.” He does not have any idea when they might return. “I told them nothing will happen, don’t leave, but they were very scared.”

Bangalore’s police force and the state of Karnataka have reinforced Delhi’s message that nobody from the northeastern community has been attacked, but among these people there is little confidence that they would be protected wherever they live.

The government has banned sending bulk text messages across the country, meanwhile, and police have taken additional measures to protect people within Bangalore.

A few yards away from Glitz, on the 100 Feet Road in Indiranagar, Christopher, a floor manager at a popular international clothing store, is worried that five of his employees from Manipur, who are working as salespeople in the store, might leave at any time.

“I have asked them not to be afraid, but they are planning to leave,” said Christopher, who requested that I not say where he worked because he was not authorised to speak on behalf of the company. “They are scared. I have told them it is all rumour and an act of some miscreants. We cannot do much except for boosting their morale.”

Christopher said there are chances that the exodus of thousands of northeasterners from Bangalore might hurt the retail and hospitality markets in the city. Many people from the Northeast work in retail as well as at hotels and serviced apartments there. According to latest reports, 250,000 people of Northeast origin live in the city, of which more than 10,000 have left. Some, reportedly, are still preparing to leave. The rumour that perhaps sparked the dash toward Bangalore’s main train station was that Muslims, following Eid that marks the end of Ramadan around August 20, would attack northeasterners en masse.

Across the road at a restaurant, Ramesh, a waiter of Nepali origin said he is scared and has moved out of the Neelasandra area of the city, where there have been unconfirmed reports of threats against northeasterners. “My brother and his wife (are) homeward bound. I’m watching the situation, (and) will think of leaving,” he said.

Students are leaving too. Jyoti Niwas College for girls has granted leaves to northeastern students for the next 10 days. More than 300 students from the region study in the college.

“I’m concerned about the safety of the students,” said the college’s principal, Sister Elizabeth. “These are unnecessary apprehension but we have left them free to move wherever they want, wherever they feel safe.” The college is prepared to arrange temporary residences for its students inside the campus if there is mass violence, she said.

Another prominent institute in the city, St Joseph College, where around 500 students from the northeastern region study, has made similar preparations. Most students from the region have either left or are staying indoors, said R.K. Johnson, a teacher and a member of the North-East and Tibetans Students forum of the college. “There is a sense of calmness after assurances from the government and police that they would be protected. However, a large number of students are still tense, feel insecure and planning to leave.”

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