'Deadline' SMS sparks Exodus

The Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Express departing at 6.25 pm yesterday was suddenly converted into an ‘Assam special’ train as around 2,000 Assamese — from workers and professionals to students and visitors — left the city in it. The reason for the exodus was a rumour about more violence against people from that state in the coming days.

In the wake of recent attacks on people from the Northeast — most of them not even from Assam but mistakenly identified as such — that are believed to be hate crimes following violence between two communities in Assam, a rumour has begun spreading in the city that August 20 is the deadline for all Assamese to leave the city.

We’ve had enough: People hailing from Assam and other parts of the Northeast wait their turn to board the Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Express at the Pune railway station yesterday. Pic/Krunal Gosavi

“We are not feeling safe here,” an Assamese person said. “Our parents are very worried for us.” Several people in the crowds of Assamese at the Pune railway station said the same thing, besides claiming they were going back to ensure the safety of their families back home.

Kitesh (24), who is from the violence-affected Kokrazar district of Assam, said: “I am not at all willing to come back to Pune. My district was worst affected and I am worried for my parents.”

A crowd of Assamese people and others from the Northeast anxiously wait for the Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Express at the Pune railway station yesterday

Sanjay Vasumatari (22) from Udalgiri district of Assam, who is a security guard working with a private firm, said: “I am scared because of the recent attacks. Fortunately, I and my friends didn’t face anything, but my parents are repeatedly asking me to come back.”

Sooraj Dora, a worker hailing from Teensukhia district of Assam, was returning home with his sister Aneesha. “I have a farm there. I will prefer to do farming with my mother than coming back to Pune,” he said.

The crush as people board the train, to which the Railways added two additional coaches

Deepak Musahari, a security guard who hails from Udalgiri district of Assam, said: “I am staying in Pune from last 12 years. Not a single time I faced such panic situation. Some people are appealing us not to go back, but we can’t take a risk.”

While the station was flooded with people from all states of the Northeast at the station by 4 pm to catch the Azad Hind express, most of them were from Assam.

Considering the massive rush, the railway administration decided to increase two coaches on the train, but still the train with 23 bogies was packed with people form the Northeast.  Suneel Kamthan, station manager, said: “We have added two coaches to the Azad Hind Express. The additional coaches will accommodate 400 passengers.”

A jam-packed coach. Pics/Krunal Gosavi and Zang Aier

The Government Railway Police (GRP) provided five armed guards for the Azad Hind Express. “Our security will remain till Nagpur, the last station in Maharashtra for this express,” Senior Police Inspector (GRP) Mahendra Rokade said.

Political and other outfits like the Shiv Sena, the Akhil Bhartiya Viyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) appealed to the people of the Northeast to not leave the city.  “We have decided to provide every kind of support to them,” a former Shiv Sena corporator said. “Henceforth, not a single attack will be tolerated. Our shakha pramukhs are surveying the city and will give all help.”

Delegation meets CP
A delegation of more than 200 students, working professionals from the Northeast and their local guardians met Commissioner of Police Gulabrao Pol and expressed their concern over the rumour of more violence. They informed Pol that the rumour was being spread by way of an SMS that had been widely circulated and said that the attacks in the city would be resumed after Ramzan. 

Flight Lt (Retired) W J Singh, who hails from Manipur and has been living in the city for the past 42 years, spoke to the media after the meeting with Pol and other police officials, saying “After these incidents, there is a great fear in the minds of Northeast Community, but now the police and the local religious leaders have assured us that such incidents will not be repeated again and asked us not to get panicked anymore,” he said. “Due to these incidents, parents are getting worried back in the home states and are asking their children to come back, but I appeal to the parents and the students and working professionals not to believe in any rumour and to not leave the city. I think that the Northeast community should not feel alienated and deserted.”

He also appealed to the local Muslim youths not to resort to violence and to maintain peace. Pol assured the community that it was the responsibility of the police to provide adequate security to the community and appealed to them to not believe in rumours.  “If anyone wants to go back we can not stop him or her, but we want to assure them and their parents back in their state that there is no need to get worried,” Pol said. 

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