By Prarthana Mitra
In the aftermath of a toddler’s rape by a Bihari worker in Gujarat, outrage against the migrant community spilled into widespread mob fury and violence, forcing workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and MP to flee the state in hordes.
The locals, enraged by the alleged rape of a 14-month-old girl in Sabarkantha on September 28, have since targeted and attacked migrant workers, creating a state of terror culminating in 19 registered cases and 342 arrests. The tension is particularly pronounced in GIDC estates and industrial belts of the state, although the situation seems to be under control in urban pockets like Ahmedabad. Hate messages against non-Gujarati workers were circulated over social media as well.
What steps have the police taken?
Director General of Police Shivanand Jha told the media about deploying 17 companies of State Reserve Police (SRP) in the areas more prone to violence. “Security of areas inhabited by non-Gujaratis and the factories where they work has been increased. Police have also increased patrolling in these areas,” he added. Two cases have already been lodged for spreading incendiary rumours on social media, the DGP said.
In Gandhinagar, which has taken a severe hit, the police are on high alert. Camps have been organised, and law enforcement authorities are working along with local leaders to convince the people to stay. Additional forces and vehicles have also been requisitioned to districts which have asked for them, as the safety of non-Gujarati residents is the top priority now, Jha added.
Mob violence and terror leads to exodus
On Sunday night, five factory workers were attacked in the suburbs of Vadodara, by local residents, 16 of whom were later apprehended by the state police. In a factory at Gir Somnath, locals barged in and demanded an immediate lockdown.
President of Uttar Bharatiya Vikas Parishad (UBVP, an umbrella body of migrant workers), Shyamsinh Thakur informed the Mumbai Mirror on Sunday, that they had received 700 distress calls already. Despite most of these incidents reporting minor injuries, around 50,000 migrants from North India left Gujarat overnight, fearing an escalation of mob fury which showed no sign of abeyance.
Gujarat Home Minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja said that they have lodged 35 FIRs so far. “In the last 24 hours, the number of attacks has decreased,” he insisted, appealing to migrants “to not be frightened as we are taking appropriate actions.”
At a press conference, DGP Jha refused to play along with the gory picture being painted, saying that the ‘exodus’ may be due to UP-Bihar natives returning home for the upcoming festive season. He also told reporters that officers have been tasked with persuading and escorting those fleeing in fear back to the state.
Thakur of UBVP, however, said that the labourers who have already left are not likely to return for three months at least, which will hit businesses and industries of Gujarat. At Mehsana GIDC, about 70% of the labourers have left, he told the press.
On Monday, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar spoke to Gujarat CM and HM, directing them to take precautionary measures, following which Jadeja assured that the state was working in consonance with the centre, having submitted a report on each incident. “It is our responsibility to provide security to those who come to Gujarat for employment from other states,” he added.
This ‘exodus’ has roiled political sentiments as state Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam warned the centre against targeting North Indians indiscriminately. “North Indians are being targeted in prime minister’s Gujarat. But he must remember that one day he too will have to go to Banaras [Uttar Pradesh] to seek votes,” Nirupam said, on the eve of general elections next year.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.