A questionable news article in a leading regional publication, videos with misleading messages going viral on social media sites and opportunists looking to make political hay: the result was manufactured panic about workers from northern states being assaulted and killed in Tamil Nadu. The panic caused some workers’ families to ask them to come home while others told this newspaper they were heading home for Holi.
Several industries in TN, including hospitality, MSMEs, construction and textile, depend heavily on migrant workers. Tiruppur, the garment and textile hub of the state, became the centre around which rumours of violence against the workers came to be spread. After Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar raised concerns of workers’ safety on reading the news report, TN DGP C Sylendra Babu posted a video setting the record straight. Subsequently, the police posted videos and messages in Hindi to reassure workers and their families, and TN CM M K Stalin personally reached out to Nitish. Every district administration, along with police, was told to reach out to workers and reassure them of their safety even as industry bodies appealed for calm. On Sunday, a team of Bihar officials sent to assess the situation in TN by Nitish said the situation had been normalised and noted that the videos seemed to have been circulated by “vested interests with mala fide intent”.
Indeed, Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav was targeted by the BJP for attending a public meeting marking Stalin’s 70th birthday, during which the Dravidian leader pitched for opposition unity against the BJP. TN police have booked several people for posting misleading or fake information, including the newspaper’s editor, a BJP spokesperson in UP and, on Sunday, the BJP TN chief. However, as admirable as TN’s efforts have been, the issue has spotlighted the xenophobic rhetoric employed by ethno-nationalists like the Naam Tamilar Katchi. The CM has warned of action against those who create problems for workers from other states in order to earn political mileage. Yet, mainstream parties and some sections of the media have also stereotyped and demeaned workers from northern states. The events of the past week are a wake-up call to respect and value those who have contributed to TN’s growth and development.