On September 28, 2018, a Bihari migrant worker allegedly raped a 14-month-old child in Gujarat’s Sabarakantha District. Since then Gujarat has been witnessing an exodus of migrant workers. An estimated 50,000 migrant workers from the state of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh fled the state due to violent attacks on them. Attacks on the plastic factory, ceramics factory and other small factories in seven districts of Gujarat were so consistent that many factories remained closed for a few days. The mob mainly consisting of Thakur dominated people vandalised migrant workers quarters, burnt down vehicles, creating an atmosphere of fear for life.
The community-specific attack against the migrant workers in Gujarat this time due to rape allegations against one migrant worker makes it necessary for us, to look beyond the evidence. On 1st October, Alpesh Thakor, head of Thakor Sena and a Congress MLA led a rally in Himmatnagar against the occupying of local jobs by the migrant workers from various north Indian states, followed by the dissemination of hate messages against the migrants through social media. This agitated the already existing resent among the locals in and around Himmatnagar, who claim that they do not get jobs in the local industry, as the migrant workers take away these jobs.
A study of the features of migration and industrial development in Gujarat would lead to the basis of such claims by the local people. Migration or more specifically interstate migration depends mainly on job opportunities and industrial development. Unemployed, illiterate or primary literate poor people from rural area migrate to urban areas in search of jobs mainly in the informal sector. They work in construction sites, textile industries, brick-making, cement making industries, stone quarries, mine sites, embroidery, diamond cutting, polishing and hospitality services. People from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Assam migrate to more industrially developed states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra. We are well aware of the fact that Gujarat is one of the most urbanised states in India. According to the 2011 census, Gujarat has witnessed an increase of 5.22 per cent in the rate of urbanisation whereas the urban centre in the state has also increased from 242 in 2001 to 348 in 2011. Gujarat attracts more of foreign direct investment and domestic investment in the state. The growth of infrastructural facilities in the state has led to the creation of more job opportunities. Not only are migrants attracted to these industrial jobs but, there are also migrants who become self-employed by running petty shops like small eateries.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, while addressing the situation has urged to maintain peace and ensure the safe stay of migrant workers. Earlier he had also blamed the opposition for provoking the locals to push out the migrants whereas the opposition has blamed him for failure in handling the situation. This blame game brings out the indifference among the government bodies towards the well being of the migrants. In 1990 the Gujarat government has passed laws to give 85% of such jobs to local people but this law was never implemented seriously. Now, with the arrival of 2019 election, there is a move in the State to introduce a law that would reserve 80% of labour jobs for state domicile and at least 25% for local bodies. The effectiveness of such a move will be fully apprehended with time but the real solution to this problem could be insincerely implementing all labour and migrant-related laws that would weaken unfair competition among the locals and migrants.
Migrant workers contribute to the development of the economy by providing labour force rather than taking away jobs for the locals. Internal migrants contribute to cheap labour for manufacturing and services. They do 3-D jobs which include dirty, dangerous and degrading activities that local people usually do not engage in. Furthermore, creating a separate labour market for the migrant workers has been a common strategy among employers in India. This makes it easier for employers to exploit them by providing them with low wages, long hours of work in harsh conditions. The workers survive in adverse conditions in slums, illegal settlements, makeshift huts without any municipality service and protection. Their employers earn huge profits from such exploitation which is otherwise impossible in the case of local labours. Lack of proper implementation of laws like the Inter-State Workman (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1979 is another grave reason for such circumstances. This law makes it necessary to provide decent working conditions and living conditions for the migrant workers. It provides for minimum wages, regular wage payment, proper working hours, health and education care facilities to the family of the migrant worker. This same act also makes the state governments where the migrant workforce originates accountable. The state governments are bound to register the workers, issue licences to contractors who take the workers away and monitor their working and living conditions in the state where they are working as a migrant labour. But most State governments do not follow these laws.
Like many other democratic principles, free movement is the fundamental right of all Indian citizens. Article 19(1)(d) and Article (19)(e) of Part III of the Indian Constitution clearly states that “All citizens shall have the right (...) to move freely throughout the territory of India; to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India”. Still, they are not completely accepted by the social, economic, cultural, political arena of the place they live in. Not only are they excluded from social protection schemes and any kind of legal rights but they also lack political representation. The Social Security Act of 2008 also ensures the social security and welfare of the unorganised sectors in India. Low payment, facing discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, class, gender and above all being vulnerable to mob violence or communal rivalry like in the case of Gujarat are the harsh realities of their survival. Their rights in the state where they work as migrant labourers are mostly denied on the defence of ‘son of soil’ principle according to which people born in a particular region must get priority in all kind of facilities in that particular region. This theory leads to the marginalisation of the migrant workers and other outsiders who migrate from one source to another in search of jobs or facility. As mentioned earlier these kinds of social insecurities are blots on the face of India’s democratic nature that abide by the basic principles of equality and tolerance.
An example of such diversity is the area called Becharaji in Gujarat, which has portrayed a harmonious living together of people while the migrants in other seven districts of the state were threatened. Like many other areas in Gujarat, this area also has a large number of migrant workers but violence did not erupt against them. First Post, a prominent news portal, recently published an article where they outlined that locals in this area are contented with the almost equal number of jobs given to locals and migrants in the Maruti Suzuki plant, the Honda two-wheeler plant and other small industries present there. This kind of balance in employment could be made possible everywhere only if the political parties were sensitive with the sentiments of the people. Provoking the native people against the migrants for mere political gains has always proved to be hazardous. Nothing can well exemplify these intentions better than the recent case of exodus in Gujarat.
This exodus questions the state’s tolerance and capability of handling sensitive issues. The crime of any kind is punishable by law; there are legal procedures to investigate the act, prove the accused guilty and give necessary punishment as per the rule of law. But in this case, it has to be agreed that since a Bihari migrant has been accused of committing the crime, it would be a big mistake to generalise that all migrants or all Hindi-speaking people in the state should be punished for the crime or should at least carry the baggage of such wrath. The entire migrant community in the state cannot be blamed for the alleged crime of rape committed by one migrant.
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Sugandhe, Anand S. (2017). Gujarat becoming new destination for inter-state migrants. Journal of Economic & Social Development, Volume XIII(No.1), 40-49.
Faetanini, Marina & Tankha, Rukmini. (2013). Social Inclusion of Internal Migrants in India. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO, New Delhi.
Mishra, Rajnish. (2018, October 21). First Post Gujarat migrant crisis: Here’s what set Thakor-dominated Becharaji apart from other violence-hit areas of north Gujarat. First Post. Retrieved from https://www.firstpost.com/india/gujarat-migrant-crisis-heres-what-set-thakor-dominated-becharaji-apart-from-other-violence-hit-areas-of-north-gujarat-5420041.html
Shunglu, Prabhat. (2018, October 14). The politics of migration. Retrieved from https://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-the-politics-of-migration-2675103
Image Credit: The Quint
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