NEW DELHI: The Indian government moved on Friday to stop the circulation of rumours that led thousands of panic-stricken workers belonging to the north-eastern states to rush back home from different parts of the country and a government official said SMS and MMS services on mobile phone networks in the affected regions were being suspended for about a fortnight to help the situation calm down.
Reports said several suspected rumour-mongers had been identified and were being detained in Bangalore, the hub of much of the mischief that triggered the exodus.
The Indian parliament saw a rare show of non-partisan solidarity with the opposition and the government promising to stand with the people of Assam and other troubled states.
“We have banned bulk SMSes and MMSes for 15 days,” Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh told the Press Trust of India.
The decision was taken after reports of widespread circulation of SMSes and MMSes containing misleading information about Assam violence, threats to people of north-eastern origin living in other parts of the country and doctored videos, PTI said.
The ban came into force after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said spread of rumours by miscreants had led to people belonging to the north-east to flee from Bangalore, Pune and some other parts of the country.
Noting that the guilty should be brought to book, the prime minister said at stake was not just unity and integrity of the country, but also communal harmony.
“Any miscreant fanning rumours should be brought to book,” he said.
Raising the issue in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj stressed the need to rise above party lines and send a clear message that people from the north-east have the freedom to live, work and study wherever they wish in the country.
She said the government should create helplines to address grievances of people from the north-east and step up patrolling across cities, particularly in areas and hostels where they reside in large numbers.
Ninong Ering, member of the Congress party, said reports of attacks on people from the north-east send a wrong signal and action must be taken against those spreading rumours.
“We are sad. We think ourselves as Indians.......but after incidents in a small area of Kokrajhar in Assam .... people of Mongoloid features are attacked .... It sends a wrong signal,” Mr Ering said.
He appealed to the home minister to treat this matter very seriously and take action against those spreading these rumours.
“The growing sense of insecurity among people from the north-east fleeing different parts of the country is something most reprehensible,” Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said.
He urged the people to maintain unity and integrity of the country. The people are one and “we will do everything to provide them security”, he said. “We should send a clear message that we will do everything to provide security to people from the north-east living in various parts of the country,” he said.
In Bangalore, reports said five persons were arrested on Friday on the charge of spreading rumours that triggered the exodus of people hailing from north-eastern states residing in Karnataka.
Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar said four other persons had been identified and would be arrested soon.
“Five persons have already been arrested (for spreading rumours). Some four more people are there.
Their names have been identified. They (police) are going to arrest more persons also,” Mr Shettar told reporters here.