NEW DELHI – The Indian home secretary has accused websites in Pakistan of spreading false rumors that caused thousands of people from India's remote northeast to panic and flee from southern and western India. They feared they would be attacked in retaliation for ethnic violence in their home state.
Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters late Saturday that investigators had found that most of the websites used images of people killed in cyclones and earthquakes and passed them off as Muslims killed in violence earlier this year to spread fear of revenge attacks. He said most of the images were uploaded from Pakistan. The sites have now been blocked.
Singh said India would discuss the matter with officials in Pakistan but gave no other details about the websites. The two countries routinely blame each other for fomenting domestic strife.
There was no immediate reaction from officials in Pakistan.
The exodus followed clashes in Assam state in recent weeks between ethnic Bodos and Muslims settlers that killed more than 50 people and displaced 400,000 others. The largest number of people fled the southern city of Bangalore. News reports said people also left some other cities in southern and western India. Those fleeing said they had heard text messages had been circulating threatening retaliatory attacks by Muslims.
Decades of ethnic violence have forced hundreds of thousands of young people from the northeast to move away in search of education and jobs. They find work mostly in the service sector in big cities, working in restaurants, shops and airlines.
The recent rioting in Assam mainly involved land rights. It has largely been brought under control, although sporadic outbreaks have occurred in the past week.
The Bodos and Muslim settlers, who mostly came from the former East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh in 1971, have clashed repeatedly over the years but the recent violence is the worst since the mid-1990s.