BANGALORE: Thousands of Indians from the northeast of the country have fled southern cities after rumours they would be attacked by Muslims in reprisal for recent ethnic violence, officials said Thursday.
Railway officials said they had put on extra trains from Bangalore to the northeastern state of Assam to accommodate a spike in demand after 6,000 tickets were sold since Wednesday evening.
People arriving in Assam's main city of Guwahati told local television they had taken last-minute decisions to flee Hyderabad and the southern state of Kerala.
"We are investigating the source of these rumours and who is behind them," Bangalore deputy commissioner of police Vincent S D'Souza told AFP.
"Mischief-mongers and vested interests are misusing social media, mobile and the Internet to spread these rumours and create panic in the people of the northeastern region," he added.
Three weeks of clashes in Assam between members of the local Bodo tribal community and Muslims have claimed 80 lives and displaced more than 400,000 people. The army was again called out Thursday to disperse an angry mob.
Police in the south said there were rumours that northeastern people, who look more East Asian or Tibetan than most Indians, would be attacked after the end of Ramazan on August 20.
There have been reports of isolated assaults in the southern cities of Pune and Mysore targeting people who look like they are from the northeast, and a rally by Muslims in Mumbai on Saturday protesting against the Assam unrest turned violent.
Two people were killed during the demonstration in Mumbai which came amid warnings from the police about anger in the Muslim community over the breakdown of law and order in parts of Assam.
On Wednesday night, thousands crammed into the main station in Bangalore, an IT hub that is a popular place to study for northeastern students, with many buying tickets to Assam or destinations in nearby West Bengal, officials said.
"We had to scramble to arrange at short notice two special trains of 20-22 coaches each around midnight to Guwahati," South Western Railway (SWR) spokesman Suvankar Biswas told AFP.
Violence flared again in Assam on Thursday, with the army and paramilitary troopers called out in the Nalbari and Kamrup districts after an angry mob of Muslim protesters torched a bus and burnt a road bridge.
They were demonstrating against an overnight incident in which a group of Bodos set ablaze a car near Rangiya, 60 kilometres west of Guwahati, police said.
The unrest has been blamed by the Bodos and some politicians on an influx of Muslim settlers from nearby Bangladesh.
"At least one bus and a wooden bridge were set ablaze by some miscreants and police had to resort to blank firing to disperse the mob trying to block the highway," police official G Singh said.
Anirban Das, a software engineer, told AFP that he had decided to flee Bangalore after hearing rumours about the danger.
"We heard we could be attacked and so boarded a train and reached Guwahati," he said.
The chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, said he was in touch with the central government and other state governments "to ensure the security and safety of people from Assam".
He also urged students to stay where they were and not return home.