Dinesh Koch heaved a sigh of relief as a special train from Bangalore reached Guwahati a tad after 4am on Saturday. The blue-collar worker, however, was apprehensive too — of losing the job he had left behind in Bangalore to alleged Bangladeshi migrants.
John Basumatary from north-central Assam, Peter Chishi from Nagaland, Angela Momin from Meghalaya and nearly 7,000 others — primarily labourers and grade IV workers — who came back home in the last 24 hours feared a similar loss of livelihood.
They “know” special trains — offering free rides — meant to bring back scared northeast people from across the country left Guwahati loaded, allegedly with illegal migrants. A conspiracy theory that their exodus was engineered to enable Bangladeshi workers, believed to come cheaper, to take over their jobs is adding to their despair.
Asked about illegal migrants being on the special trains, a senior railway officer said, “Our mandate is to transport people, not keep tabs on what categories of people are moving.”
Abhijit Sarma of Assam Public Works, a social organisation that raises its voice against the Bangladeshi influx issue, was not impressed. “Why is that only labourers from the northeast and grade IV workers have returned, and not the students and white-collar workers? The Kokrajhar riots were just the excuse for a section of people to drive out people of the northeast who had of late been taking over menial and service sector jobs across India,” he said.
An estimated 120,000 people from the northeast — 50,000 from Assam alone — are grade IV workers across the metros.
The North East Students’ Union and All Assam Students’ Union also did not rule out the conspiracy. These organisations feared the exodus would worsen the problem of unemployment in the northeast and force many youngsters into militancy.
An intelligence officer agreed, saying, “These are times militants cash in on, offering R2,000-5,000 even for odd jobs.”
Meanwhile, Bangalore police arrested 16 people for allegedly circulating SMSes claiming that people from the Northeast will be targeted after Ramzan.