False claims of violence trigger panic, drive migrants out of Tamil Nadu

BJP leaders have been accused of fanning disharmony in Tamil Nadu amid rumours of fatal attacks on migrant workers, especially from Bihar.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin (File/IE Online)

Fear and chaos reign as migrant workers in Tamil Nadu flock back home after rumour-mongers and a section of Bihar’s political leaders triggered panic among the labourers claiming they were being fatally attacked in Tamil Nadu. 

From March 1, multiple purported videos have been circulated on social media that show migrant labourers, especially from Bihar, being attacked and even killed in the state.  

A tweet that claimed “12 migrants from Bihar were hung to death in Tamil Nadu for speaking in Hindi” was posted by Prashant Umrao, a spokesperson of the Uttar Pradesh’s BJP unit. On Tuesday, the Delhi High Court granted him transit anticipatory bail for a week to allow him reasonable time to approach the territorial jurisdictional court in the FIR filed against him in Chennai.

Cases filed for spreading misinformation 

On March 4, the Tamil Nadu Police booked the BJP leader and Supreme Court lawyer Umrao, a Dainik Bhaskar Editor, and a Patna-based journalist Mohammad Tanvir for circulating fake news on social media. 

On March 6, a case was also filed against the OpIndia CEO Rahul Roushan and Editor Nupur Sharma after Suryaprakash of the IT Wing of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) lodged a complaint that the website OpIndia.com was spreading fake news and created a sense of fear among the labourers from other states in Tamil Nadu.

Cases were also filed against state BJP chief K Annamalai and the Twitter handle @BJP4Bihar for posting unverified information amid rumours of attacks on migrant workers.

Stalin reassures Nitish Kumar

Earlier, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin said in a statement that those who spread rumours were acting against the country. “Strict legal action would be taken against those who spread rumours and caused fear and panic in Tamil Nadu with videos and pictures of certain incidents that had taken place in other states,” he cautioned.

During a telephonic conversation with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Stalin also reassured him of the safety of migrant workers. Tamil Nadu’s Director General of Police Sylendra Babu released a statement, saying that the videos doing rounds of social media were “false and mischievous”. 

“Somebody in Bihar posted false and mischievous videos saying that migrant workers were attacked in Tamil Nadu. Two videos were posted. Both are false as these incidents took place at an earlier date in Tiruppur and Coimbatore. One was a clash between two groups of migrant workers from Bihar while another was from a clash between two local residents in Coimbatore,” the DGP said.

The top cop on 6 March said that police patrolling has intensified in places where the north Indians are employed. Stating that the situation is peaceful and the workers have resumed work, he said a few of them have left for the Holi celebrations. 

Meanwhile, the Bihar Police arrested one Aman Kumar from Jamui district who had several such videos on his phone and filed cases against several persons for spreading misinformation on social media.

When asked about reports of a Bihari migrant worker being killed and hung in Tamil Nadu, Jitendra Singh Gangawar, ADG Police Headquarters, clarified that an old suicide case was made to look like a murder. On another video that showed some Bihari migrants being beaten by locals, the official said that the video was from Bihar-Jharkhand, and had no connection with Tamil Nadu.

A 10-member team is investigating the matter, he added.

The Bihar CM has also constituted a four-member committee that left for Tamil Nadu to take stock of the situation and submit a report. The move came after the CM faced flak from the Opposition BJP over the alleged attacks. The saffron party has also taken advantage of the situation to attack Bihar’s coalition government, claiming it failed to protect the migrant labourers.

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav had also come under attack from the Opposition BJP for celebrating Stalin’s 70th birthday when workers from the state are allegedly facing “attacks” in Tamil Nadu.

However, this sense of fear among migrant workers has affected economic activities in parts of Tamil Nadu as many workers stayed off work, according to industry leaders. Reports indicate that over 70% of the labourers in hospitality and construction are migrants. In Tiruppur, almost 20% of the garment unit workers are also from northern states.

How it all began

Incidentally, it all began in February when a video went viral on social media in which a person is seen verbally and physically assaulting Hindi-speaking migrant workers in an unreserved and crowded train compartment. In the video, the individual speaks about the loss of livelihood opportunities for Tamil Nadu natives due to migration, and punches and slaps the labourers. The Government Railway Police have since traced and arrested the accused.

This one attack is believed to have been responsible for the “misinformation campaign” on alleged attacks on migrant labourers in Tamil Nadu.

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First published on: 07-03-2023 at 16:07 IST
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