India has blamed Pakistan-based groups for creating an atmosphere of fear which triggered the mass exodus of over 10,000 panic-stricken people from the northeast.
India's interior ministry has accused Pakistan-based elements of uploading provocative and offensive content on the Internet and spreading it through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to create a scare among people throughout India who are of northeastern descent.
An investigation by the home ministry revealed that over 10,000 panic-stricken northeastern Indians have fled the southern cities of Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad over the last five days after reports that their communities would become the target of violent attacks on Eid.
The Muslim holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
Morphed pictures to spread panic
An Indian Home Ministry report noted that social media, email, Internet chat rooms and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) calls were being used to spread disinformation and rumors to provoke unrest in Assam and other parts of the country.
“Within a short (time), threats and counter-threats have been spread far and wide using digital media. Many threats have been made in the open while certain plans and coordination activities are being carried out in chat rooms and on mails," said the report.
"These unidentified Muslim extremists are waging an online campaign after the outbreak of violent clashes in Myanmar between Buddhists and Muslims," it added.
Home Secretary R.K. Singh said intelligence agencies had identified many websites on which false and morphed images were posted to incite communal tension.
"Our two teams deployed for this specific job have so far identified many such websites on which inflammatory messages were uploaded from Pakistan. The contents include old images from Myanmar and other places that are being used to provoke people. Over 125 internet platforms have been blocked," said Singh.
The exodus of students and workers from the northeastern states, many of whom move south to big cities in search of better education and employment opportunities, has its roots in the violent clashes that started last month between indigenous Assam people and Muslim immigrants.
Pakistan rejects claims
On Sunday and Monday, mobile services were temporarily unavailable in some parts of Pakistan amid threats there would be terrorist attacks during the holy festival of Eid. But regarding India's claims, Islamabad rejected them, labeling them "unfounded."
Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that India has not provided any evidence for its ascertains, but that his country would look into it.
"The Indian home minister has said that rumors were generated from Pakistan through cellular services. I requested him to provide evidence in this regard to us and we will take care of it," Malik told reporters in Islamabad.
Madhu Chandra, spokesperson for the North East Support Centre and Helpline to fight racial and gender-based violence against people from the northeast living in the capital New Delhi hoped the panic would end.
"We don't know who is generating these rumors. We believe that some hidden forces want to spread communal tension between minorities and different sections of society," she said.
The exodus of panic-stricken people of northeastern origin in south India has come as a surprise to many, as the south has enjoyed a long standing reputation of being a haven of peace and home to non-natives. The question is whether they will return.