India Bans Bulk Texts in Attempt to Stanch Fear, Migrant Exodus

India Bans Bulk Texts in Attempt to Stanch Fear
An Indian officegoer checks a text message on his mobile phone in Mumbai. Photographer: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

India banned bulk mobile-phone texting to check the spread of rumors of violence against migrants from northeastern states following ethnic clashes in Assam last month that killed 77 and displaced more than 400,000.

The government banned bulk phone messaging for 15 days, Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters in New Delhi yesterday. Ninong Ering, a ruling Congress party lawmaker from the state of Arunachal Pradesh, said in parliament yesterday that about 20,000 people had fled cities including Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune, and demanded action against those spreading rumors.

“We will do our utmost to ensure that our friends, our children and our citizens from the northeast feel secure in any part and every part of our country,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday in parliament. “We must curb all the elements that are out to create trouble.”

Fighting broke out in July in the northeastern state of Assam’s Kokrajhar district between indigenous Bodo tribespeople and Muslims who have settled in the region from what is now Bangladesh over several decades. Violence erupts every few years between the communities, driven by competition for agricultural land.

Authorities in the state deployed the army, imposed a curfew as the violence in Kokrajhar spread to neighboring districts. On Aug. 11, two people died and dozens were injured when a rally in Mumbai organized by groups protesting killings of Muslims in Assam turned violent.

Television channels including CNN-IBN showed images of migrant workers and students from the northeast thronging railway stations in Pune and the southern city of Chennai, cramming trains to head back home.

Separately, an explosion in Pune yesterday injured a child, CNN-IBN reported. Four low-intensity explosions struck the city on Aug. 1, injuring one person.

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