Act now

It is the result of long-standing dis-crimination.

It is ironical, and in some respects, even scary, that on a day when the prime minister, addressing the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort, was making a routine speech to mark the Independence Day, around 5,000 people from the North-East settled or studying in distant Bangalore, were making a beeline out of the city in a panic reaction to ‘rumours’ about retaliatory attacks for recent violence in Assam. While the country basked in celebrations of the 66th Independence Day, here was a danger signal, however minute, that we have all taken the slogans of ‘unity and integrity’ and ‘unity in diversity’ completely for granted. There have been a series of reports from across the country about attacks on the people of North-Eastern origin, but both the Central and state governments have failed to reassure them that they are as much ‘Indians’ as the others and their safety will be secured.

In Bangalore, the rumours were allegedly spread through SMSes and social network Web sites like Facebook and Twitter. Considering that there was no immediate provocation or any known incident to trigger such a mass exodus, it can only be the result of a deep-seated fear psychosis that has not been properly addressed. A similar exodus is being reported from Andhra Pradesh. Around 10,000 people have reportedly left in the last three days. These are serious developments which require immediate attention. As an urgent step, the governments must trace the origin of the rumours and the threatening SMSes. Clearly, these are aimed at terrorising the public and creating disorder. Stern action is imperative, including against the social networks which ‘contribute’ to the mischief.

The present panic among the North-Easterners must not be seen in isolation. It is the result of long-standing discrimination they have suffered at the hands of ‘mainland’ Indians, which has deepened their vulnerability at the best of times. That the people from the remote region prefer to flee from cities rather than stay back is a damning indictment of how they see the Indian state, which has rarely risen to protect them or instil in them a sense of security, whether in the North-East or elsewhere in the country. It is well-known that police refuse to file FIRs registered by harassed North-Easterners. The governments must redouble their efforts to make them feel safe. In the long run, we need to be more inclusive in our imagination of India and its oneness.

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