New Delhi: Several migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are fleeing Gujarat fearing violent backlash in the state against non-Gujaratis after a 14-month-old girl was raped on September 28.
The arrested accused is a migrant labourer from Bihar. Following the incident, migrants in six north Gujarat districts were beaten up as hate messages spread on WhatsApp and social media.
Police have arrested 342 people in the state and registered 42 cases for assault on migrant labourers. On Sunday, 15 labourers were attacked in Vadodra district too. Fearing for their safety, migrants are now fleeing Gujarat in great numbers. Many landlords too have asked their tenants to move out.
This not the first instance of hate crimes against migrants from a particular region. Migrants belonging to UP, Bihar and the North East region have been forced to return home for fear of their lives in various regions of the country in the past.
In August 2012, thousands of people from the North East fled Bangalore fearing for their safety following rumours of a widespread attack on the community. The rumours were circulated in the wake of attack on people from the North East in different parts of the country. The attacks came in retaliation to 2012 Assam riots between indigenous Bodos and migrant Muslims from Bangladesh.
Karnataka government even provided two special trains to Assam in addition to regular trains to the region to counter the rush of people leaving the state. A similar exodus was also witnessed in Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune when rumours of assault on people from North East spread.
Labourers from North East were also attacked in Andhra Pradesh resulting in the death of one. Several North Eastern students and working professionals in Pune were thrashed by angry mobs. Mumbai too saw violent protests against the North Eastern community.
In 2008, thousands of migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar fled from Maharashtra after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a splinter political outfit born out of Shiv Sena, headed by Raj Thackeray launched an assault on North Indians. The widespread attacks were sparked off by a clash between the MNS and the Samajwadi Party workers in Mumbai. The MNS attack was defended by Thackeray and he said the attack was a reaction to the "provocative and unnecessary show of strength" and "uncontrolled political and cultural bullying of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar migrants and their leaders".
Thackeray also made inciting speeches in which he derided Biharis for celebrating their regional Chhath Puja and called it a "drama" and "show of arrogance". He even questioned actor and Uttar Pradesh native Amitabh Bachchan over his loyalty to Maharashtra, accusing him of sympathising with Uttar Pradesh while earning his living in Mumbai. Thackeray and Abu Azmi, an SP leader, were arrested for causing communal disturbance.
Following the MNS leader's arrest, violence broke out in Maharashtra and attacks against North Indians were reported from Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Beed, Nashik, Amravati, Jalna and Latur. Fearing for their safety, about 25,000 North Indian workers fled Pune and about 15,000 left Nashik. The labour shortage impacted industries adversely as well.
Exactly a year ago in October 2017, hundreds of migrant workers fled Kerala, again fearing for their lives after rumours of violence against them spread on Whatsapp. The messages accompanied gory pictures of dead bodies that tried to create a sense of fear and falsely claim that several had already been killed.
However, some reports claimed that the workers were leaving as demonetisation and implementation of Goods and Services Tax had reduced employment opportunities.
A couple of months later in December 2017, about 60,000 workers, mostly from the North East, left Karnataka after government decree asked plantation and hotel owners to not hire illegal migrants for work. Fearing a crackdown, North East migrants, about 1.5 lakh of which were employed in Hassan, Chikmagaluru and Kodagu districts, started fleeing the state.
In Gujarat, about 50,000 workers are said to have fled fearing violence.
Kshtriya Thakor Sena, the outfit said to be behind the attacks in Gujarat, has denied allegations and said they have, on the contrary, set up a helpline for migrants in distress.
Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam said in response to the violence and exodus of workers that Prime Minister Narendra Modi too will have to visit Uttar Pradesh's Varanasi to seek votes.