A Train To The Red River: Indians Feeling Unsafe In India

Posted on August 17, 2012 in Politics

By Saurabh Thapa:

It was quite an eventful day in the country’s third most populous state. In addition to the humdrum throng of hasty IT workers, ambling shoppers and chirpy students, the busy roads that entail the responsibility of directing people to their dreams (Bangalore: the entrepreneurial capital of India) were also filled by some 5000 people whose dreams were shattered. The traffic couldn’t have been more congested and the coolies in the Bangalore City Railway Station would have never experience such ecstasy to find themselves amidst so many customers. Their potential customers however did not reflect the same sentiment. They felt abashed, humiliated and scorned by the condescending acts of some hoodlums that reek of parochial undertones.

Endless assuaging by politicians could not deter these North-East Indians from catching the train to their matrabhumi, as they were only succumbing to their basic human reflex: self-protection. So when our brand new Home Minister calls the situation in the state “peaceful” it falls on deaf ears.“There is nothing to worry. The entire government is with you. We will protect the interests of the north-East people,” mollifies the chief minister of Karnataka, Jagadish Shettar. But around 10 people reportedly have already been at the receiving end of whatever has incited prejudice against the people from the North-East, especially Assam.

If there lays a prospect of a communal fire, the smoke can be seen in other parts of south India as well. Premanand Khondram, a high school student from Manipur, was assaulted twice on 9th August in Pune. Instances of violence aimed towards the North-East Indians are also palpable in Mysore, Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad. While the ambushes have abated of late, the police have pulled their socks up. “We have arrested 11 people in two attack cases. Two of the accused are still in police custody, while nine others were released on bail. We have registered complaints for rioting and voluntarily causing hurt,” commented the senior inspector of Kondhwa police station Prasad Hasabnis. The onus of the recent course of events has been put on an MMS clip which has been allegedly provoking the Muslims of south India to affront the north-eastern community. The MMS is said to contain certain scenes from the communal riots occurring in Assam which are disparaging of the Muslim community.

The claim, that the Kokrajhar conflict has triggered this tension in south India, is quite a plausible one. The issue of Muslim minorities being accused of migrating illicitly from Bangladesh by the Bodos and the carnage of Assamese (both Muslims and Hindus) due to this animosity may be the spine of the communal discord in south-India. Some emphatically point out the misnomer that all migrant Muslims inhabiting the Kokrajhar district of Assam are not illegally situated.

“The migration of Bengali Muslim peasants from erstwhile East Bengal began in the 1800s after the British annexed Assam in 1826, with the Treaty of Yandaboo after defeating the Burmese in the First Anglo Burmese War.” explains Nilim Dutta, executive director of the Strategic Research and Analysis Organisation, Guwahati. So if were to confide in Nilim’s research, why would the Bodo people overlook this part of Assam’s history and label every immigrant ‘Bangladeshi’?

It cannot be simply assumed that the BTAD leadership and the mainstream Assamese society are innocently mistaken in believing that all Muslims inhabiting this area are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Rather it is a conscious “mistake” laced with communal undertones. The rhetoric of “illegal” migrants flooding the region that appears to be fuelling the attacks is backed largely by what seems to be paranoia about the perceived growing numbers of Muslims in the area, all of whom are assumed to be “illegal” migrants.” says Banajit Hussain, former researcher at the Democracy and Social Movement Institute in Seoul. Perhaps these riots aren’t an omen for budding jingoism in the Bodos, but something far more intricate with traces of communal hatred.

But the precise reason behind the assaults in south India is still speculation. Dr Walter Fernandes from Guwahati recently visited Bangalore and revealed a whole new side to the issue. According to his findings
“…we found out who was behind the false rumours. It is the fundamentalist group Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena – the group that was behind the attack on Prashant Bhushan inside the Supreme Court Premises. They have been sending SMS messages and writing on the facebook that the Muslims are planning a massive attack on them after EID and that they should leave Bangalore (sic).”

The veracity of his claim may not be verifiable since the news is fresh, but if we believe him for an instance, the North-East assault cases in Bangalore, Pune etc now seems to have added an entirely differently twist to them. Whether it’s a group of useless hoodlums who by adopting the name of a freedom fighter are not only denigrating his name but his idea of a free and united India, or a group of Muslims who in a spate of prejudice are carrying out acts that bring disgrace to their religion in the holy month of Ramadan, the truth remains the same: 5000 innocent Indians could not feel safe in their own country.