Northeast exodus takes Chennai by a surprise

Chennai: The sudden exodus of panic-stricken North East people from Tamil Nadu has come as a surprise to the state which has a long standing reputation of being a haven of peace and home to non-natives.

The number of people fleeing the state in the backdrop of exodus in cities like Bangalore and Pune following rumours about attacks on them has now come down considerably.

But natives and officials are clueless as to how the state has been perceived to be unsafe, that too when there had been no reports of any attack on the North East community.

Though Chennai has been the preferred destination for workers and students from North East, of late their presence is spreading to other districts as well with the state moving fast on the track of industrialisation with new infrastructure projects and industrial units in Kancheepuram, Coimbatore and Tiruvallur districts.

People from the North Eastern states, ranging from students to workers in hotels and malls among others, have over the years got along very well with the locals to the extent that some of them can even converse fluently in Tamil, considered hard to learn by non-natives.

As the North East people residing in Chennai followed the footsteps of their state-mates in Bangalore, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa stepped in and assured to ensure their safety. "The state of Tamil Nadu has always been peaceful, and my government will ensure that people from all parts of India living in Tamil Nadu do not face any difficulty. I would like to assure them that they need not have any apprehension on this count," she had assured last week.

Police also swung into action and set up a control room and three helplines exclusively for North East people. But no complaint has been received by them so far, police said. "We have received only enquiries on the helplines. There has not been any complaint or call informing about threats to people from the North East," Chennai Police Commissioner J K Tripathy said. .

 Neighbouring Kancheepuram district, which encompasses suburbs of Chennai, also has a good number of people from the North East and police have initiated measures to instill confidence in them.

"There are over 2,000 workers from the North East in Kancheepuram district. I have met them and told them not to believe any rumours and asked them to contact me if they came across any rumour," Kancheepuram Superintendent of Police S Manoharan told PTI.

Kancheepuram is one of the districts which is undergoing large-scale industrialisation in the state lately. Some students from the Northeast themselves are surprised by the sudden exodus of their community people.

"I have always found Chennai very, very safe. Personally, I have not seen any threat here and I do not feel any need for anyone to leave Chennai and Tamil Nadu," Saniyo, hailing from Shillong in Meghalaya and now a post-graduate student in a management college in Chengalpet, said.

Asked whether he has faced any change of attitude toward them among the locals, he replied in the negative. "Even yesterday I visited a place in Perambur…I did not feel any change in the way they (the locals) see me. It was like any other day. As I said, Chennai is different from other states and cities," he reasoned.

A senior railway official too said he was surprised to see such mass movement of people from Chennai on safety grounds. "I presume they were leaving because of the violence in Assam, which have disturbed their families and they want to be by their family during this time," B Ilangovan, Deputy General Manager, Southern Railways said.