AHMEDABAD: A little girl was raped by a man from Bihar last week. He was arrested. But rumours since sparked off large scale violence against Hindi speaking workers from Uttar Pradesh , Madhya Pradesh and Bihar across Gujarat, leading to a mass exodus.Thousands are reported to have fled the state over the past couple of days.

The police claimed to have arrested at least 180 persons but not before mobs attacked ‘migrant’ clusters, burnt their small shops, beat up the men, and threatened them with death if they did not leave the state. Mbs prowled the streets, stopping ‘outsiders’ and verifying their antecedents. The bad words were UP, Bihar, with their meagre dwellings burnt or ransacked, and their thela’s selling food or vegetables set on fire.

Gujarat, like most other states, is dependent on labour from UP and Bihar with the poorest of poor from these states travelling long distances for a living. The violence has relied on fringe sentiments centering around ‘Gujarat for Gujarati’s’ with local leaders and political parties campaigning for employment of ‘local’ youths in preference to ‘migrants.’

The BJP and Congress have officially maintained a grim silence about the attacks and the exodus, with Twitterati in fact targeting Congress leader Alpesh Thakor for encouraging the violence. Thakor has since appealed for calm, but his Gujarat Shatriya-Thakor Sena that claims a membership of over 700,000, is largely being credited with the violence.Thakor was quoted by the media as saying that the anger was directed not against the migrant labour but against the companies for not complying with the rule to employ 80 percent of Gujaratis in their factories. In fact, as per repors the ceramic industry where the Bihari accused of rape was the first to be attacked with the violence then spreading across toGandhinagar, Sarbarkantha, Ahmedabad, Patan and Mehsana that have been the worst hit.

The Indian Express best chronicled the fear and trauma of the migrants in the state, leading them to flee Gujarat for fear of their lives. Buses are packed to capacity, with bus transporters maintaining that they have added to the fleet in response to the demand. Migrants have spoken of the mob attacks, with their children screaming in fear and terror as the crowds entered their homes, and beat up everyone in sight. Persons have spoken of being stopped on the streets by men armed with lathis, being questioned about their antecedents, beaten and told to get out of Gujarat, or they would be killed.

Local sources said that the sentiments had been festering for a long while and exploited by political leaders to consolidate their constituencies. The violence matched by the exodus of Hindi speaking migrants from Gujarat has been going on for a few days, and now intensified. Thousands are reported to have fled the state, with others queuing up for transport. Interestingly, the BJP itself is in power in UP, Madhya Pradesh and in coalition with the Janata Dal(U) in Bihar.