In the last few days, social media has been abuzz with unverified reports claiming that Hindi-speaking Bihari labourers have been subjected to hate crimes in Tamil Nadu.
Why is Tamil Nadu struck by rumour-driven panic? Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, expressed concern on Thursday, 2 March 2023, about alleged attacks on Bihari migrants in the south Indian state, which he said he learned about through newspaper reports. In his tweet, he mentioned that he has asked the State Chief Secretary and Director General of Police to get in touch with their counterparts in Tamil Nadu.
Many migrant workers at the Kakkalur Industrial Estate, which has around 3,000 migrant labourers mostly from Bihar, started leaving for home in the wake of concerns raised by the Bihar CM.
How did the TN state government respond?
Hours later, Tamil Nadu DGP Sylendra Babu issued a statement clarifying that Bihari migrant workers were not being attacked in Tamil Nadu and dubbed two purported videos, showing Bihari workers being allegedly attacked, as false and malicious.
On 3 March, Labour Welfare Minister CV Ganesan, issued a statement that there was no threat to any North Indian, Hindi-speaking workers in Tamil Nadu.
In the wake of the panic situation amidst the migrants in Tamil Nadu, the state Chief Minister MK Stalin issued a statement on 4 March, stating that the state has always been the land of hospitality, which wholeheartedly welcomes people and helps them thrive. Stalin reportedly spoke to his Bihar counterpart, Nitish Kumar and assured the safety of all migrant workers in Tamil Nadu, emphasising that the workers from North India are workers of the state as they were integral to the development of infrastructure in Tamil Nadu.
Stalin’s statement also said that strict legal action will be initiated against those who deliberately post such fake videos and spread fear and panic in the state. Tamil Nadu police also issued helpline numbers 0421 - 2203313, 9498101300, and 9498101320 to enable migrant workers to address any issues.
Were the rumor-mongers punished? Earlier on 4 March, Tamil Nadu’s Tirupur north police station booked the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, a Twitter handle named Tanveer Post, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Uttar Pradesh spokesperson Prashant Patel Umrao under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for spreading disinformation and claiming that migrant workers had been fatally attacked for speaking Hindi in Tamil Nadu.
The issue created a ruckus in the Bihar assembly for two days, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claiming Bihari workers were being targeted in Tamil Nadu and demanding that a team of House members be sent to investigate reports of attacks on Bihari migrants working in TN.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu BJP President K Annamalai lashed out at DMK leaders for allegedly issuing statements against Hindi-speakers in the past. The DMK, meanwhile, accused the BJP's TN unit of firing up the rumourers. On 5 March, Annamalai too was booked for allegedly spreading misinformation.
Various industrial bodies have issued statements reassuring safety for their migrant workforce, with some organisations like the Federation of Coimbatore Industrial Association (FOCIA) urging CM Stalin to put out messages in Hindi to ease out the tension among the migrant workers.
A team of government officials from Bihar on 4 March arrived in Chennai to meet with officials from Tamil Nadu and probe assaults on migrant labourers.