Over 5,000 panic-stricken northeastern Indians have fled the southern city of Bangalore after reports their communities would become the target of violent attacks.
Wild rumors have been spreading, causing panic, that people originally from India's northeast now living in the southern city of Bangalore would be attacked to avenge sectarian violence in Assam, in which 74 lives were lost last month.
The fright among students from northeastern states was accentuated after a Tibetan student was stabbed on August 13 in the neighboring city of Mysore in an apparent case of mistaken identity.
Outsiders at home
Two extra north-bound trains ran in addition to the transportation service's normal schedule late Wednesday night to clear the expected rush of passengers headed for Assam. Many people desperate to leave Bangalore had to buy unreserved tickets and board packed trains to leave the city.
"We are scared and fear for our lives. Two days back three of my friends got anonymous text messages that we will be harmed. And suddenly this panic erupted," student Daniele Panmei told DW while waiting to board a train, adding, "all of us will come back when the situation is better."
The fear among the waiting passengers was palpable.
"I have not gone to any classes for four days. My parents are asking me to come home as soon as possible. Now, with so many people leaving, I might just do that," Kiom Khiangte, an IT student told DW.
The recent exodus of students from the northeastern states, many of whom move south to big India 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.
More than 170,000 people fled their homes as a result of the unrest, which is still rife in the region and has even spilled out to other parts of the country.
Analysts felt that big cities needed to wake up to multiculturalism, especially the presence of people from the northeast in "mainland India" and to make concerted efforts towards overcoming the racial and cultural divide that leads to prejudiced ideas regarding people from the region.
"Living in Indian cities can be a grueling experience for northeasterners who look a certain way. In all the major Indian cities, there is a collective prejudice against them that is undeniable. But I fail to understand the trigger in Bangalore," Yengkhom Jilangamba, a lecturer in history, told DW.
State assures protection
The flight of students from Bangalore - the city often referred to as India's Silicon Valley - prompted student unions and ethnic northeasterners to start social media campaigns. For example, the page "Stop Discriminating People from the North-East India" on the social networking site, Facebook, which appeals to Muslims to show restraint.
"Dear Muslim brothers, please stop attacking people from the northeast. Let us not (think in terms of) communal (prejudice)," said one post.
Concerned over the development, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened and spoke to Karnataka chief minister Jagadish Shettar who assured him that steps were being taken to ensure the protection of all people.
"We are taking all measures to ensure people's safety across the state and protect them from being attacked or harmed by anyone. The security of citizens is our foremost duty," said the state's Director General of Police Lalrokhuma Pachau.
As the exiled northeasterners wait to return south, authorities are hoping the fresh threats of violence remain empty ones.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning