How not to read the current crisis
It throws light on certain aspects of our politics and culture that goes beyond what the government has claimed as ‘rumours’ and handiwork of some miscreants and anti-socials. There are different ways of looking at it. And perhaps, there are important lessons on how not to read the current situation.
Firstly, there is a need to disentangle physical attacks, verbal intimidations and tenants being asked to vacate their houses from the problem in Assam. Such acts and threats should be treated as individual cases which require individual responses. For instance, no houseowner has the right to chase away his/her tenants without proper reasons on the grounds of violation of their owner-tenant agreement.
This is not to say that the text messages and photos being circulated on social networking sites have no role in the flaring up of tension. On the contrary, one needs to understand that there could be other reasons than just text messages and images which are responsible for the frenzied exodus. To miss this point would invariably lead to the question being repeatedly posed to the North-Easterners: How can so many of you decide to leave your city just because of some rumours?
Nobody wants to leave their place of work and study and certainly not in such a manner due to some text message alone. The text messages and images circulated might be rumours or fake, but the threats are real, the intimidations are real and hence the fear and insecurity. The important point here rather is to find the culprits who are responsible for creating this fear psychosis among people and investigate their agenda.
The police should use the latest technology and with the co-operation of local leaders and North-East leaders, identify such people or groups as the first step to contain the crisis.
In Bangalore, North-East community leaders have had meetings with the chief minister, the police, and Muslim leaders. They have been assured of all possible security and protection and several steps have been taken in this regard.
Police helplines have been provided and Muslim leaders are also working overtime to instill confidence in the people to not panic and leave the City. Also, some groups like the RSS and ABVP have set up helplines and volunteered at railway stations to request people to not leave.
In spite of all the initiatives taken, incidents are still reported in various areas of the City, thus making the North-Easterners a confused lot.
Moreover, it is rather unfair to request the Muslim leaders alone to appeal to the public since it is not their community that is instigating these events. A minority is being pitted against another minority and neither seems to be getting any benefit out of this. It should be the concern of all sections and groups of society to come out and condemn violence of any kind.
It is quite surprising that the intelligence and police departments could be caught completely unawares by the mass exodus. That a big crowd of more than five thousand could gather at a railway station in one night and head for the same destination without any prior bookings of tickets could go without any intelligence tip-off and response is highly questionable.
Also, there seems to be a clear disconnect between the leaders and the members of the local community and the leaders of the North-East communities. While the former has assured North-East students of their safety, yet many local shopkeepers and auto drivers seem to advise people from the region to leave the City for sometime for their own safety and security.
On the other hand, the North-East leaders have also failed, to a large extent, in convincing their community members not to panic and to register police compliants.
The developments of the last few weeks also open up issues relating to the larger questions of migration and of tolerance and cosmopolitanism. In a world with increasing cross-border and intra-border migrations, how do we conceive our polities, our cities and our communities?
Do we construct them as static entities and build walls within our societies, maintaining distance from the people who come to live and work in our cities?
Do we idealise them as dynamic bodies, resilient to any takeover by communal politics, or narrow, rigid ideas of a particular kind? With limited land, limited resources at our disposal, does our economic pursuits play a role in dividing us on communal lines in order to get political mileage by people with vested interests?
There are many lessons to be learnt from the events in Assam and the developments in the metros. But the cost being paid for this by way of the fear and insecurity, the exodus, the instability, sense of victimhood: is it really worth it, especially with no guarantee that we will learn our lesson this time?
(The writer is from Manipur and teaches Political Science at St Joseph’s College of Arts and Science, Bangalore).