GUWAHATI, (Dr Walter Fernandes) — Yesterday (Saturday the 18th) saw some improvement in the situation of the people of NE origin in Bangalore. Around 30,000 persons have left already but today the number has come down to 500. Many more have decided to stay back and today many of them asked for a safe place to stay in.
Places like the SCM House, ISI and others opened their premises for them and asked for police security. But some like the 80 persons who were to come to ISI decided to remain at home because they felt secure. During the last three days the civil society groups, Muslim organisations and others went round making one-to-one contacts with people from NE.
Today two demonstrations and two candle light vigils were held demanding protection to people from NE. The one at CubbonPark at which I was present was disallowed by the police. Some decided to court arrest to assert their democratic rights. Others like me made the point and left. More than 1,000 representatives of Muslim organisations went round telling people of NE origin that if they felt unsafe they could come to their houses. They seem to feel that they can manage by themselves now.
The State Government seems to be feeling the pressure of opinion expressed by the media, by the Central Government and others and is taking steps to protect the people. There was a flag march today in many places. That is something they should have done right in the beginning.
It is surprising that the Home Minister of Karnataka knew about the exodus only when 5,000 persons gathered at the railway station four days ago. At that stage he went to the station to persuade them to stay back but they did not feel secure enough to come back.
Other actions followed. At Neelasandra which has a substantial number of people from NE, some Muslim organisations organised an Iftar party for them. Those who attended included NE student and other leaders, police officials and the local MLA. In the city itself the Students’ Christian Movement (SCM) organised another Iftar party at which many NE student leaders, NE association leaders, Muslim, civil society and other leaders (Hindu, Christian, Muslim) were present. The speeches at this party stressed on the need to take long-term action and start building bridges between the local people and the people from NE. One has to think of a long-term strategy to bridge the gap between these communities.
During the last 15 years or so Bangalore was a major destination of people from NE because they (particularly women) felt safer here than in Delhi or Mumbai. Sudden threats of attacks seem to have eroded that confidence and caused the exodus. The persons present at the Iftar insisted that we have to take long-term measures to rebuild that confidence and bridge the gap between them. One has to deal with the sense of fear because of which people do not report threats of attacks. Even when there are attacks they are afraid of reporting them to the police or others. One has to move away from that atmosphere.
It happened today (19 August). Johnson Rajkumar from Manipur, a lecturer at St Joseph’s College was asked by the landlord to vacate his house. Also the remaining North Easterners were asked to leave the building. They got together, protested to the landlord, reported the matter and got the house owner to change his mind.
I stop here for the time being. All the best to you.
Dr Walter Fernandes
North Eastern Social Research Centre
110 Kharghuli Road (1st floor)
Tel. (+91-361) 2602819
Fax: (+91-361) 2602713 (Attn. NESRC)