Migrant Workers: Rights and Concerns Community Resource

06, Apr 2018 | CJP Team

Migration has been a much discussed topic of late, especially in wake of the Rohingya exodus. However, there are many other reasons for people to migrate. Here are a few observations and recommendations presented during a seminar held on February 3, 2018 at the Delhi School of Social Work is association with the Sadhbhavna Mission.


Causes of Migration

There are three kinds of migrations across the nations:

One, caused by social strife, violence and war as in Syria and Myanmar.

Second, migration for survival as cheap labor.

Third, driven by the urge for career advancement and fortune building.

The first one is rooted in the social divisions and wars imposed by colonial and imperial powers and the vested interests to control resources. These powers must share responsibility, stop destabilization of nations and settle the displaced with dignity.

Economic globalisation and uneven growth is a primary cause of migration of working classes from one region to another or one nation to another. Their only resource is labour and they sell it for cheap. When they add Rs. 100 to the wealth of the region/ nation they get only Rs. 50 as wages. Even those who cross the border illegally or overstay on the expiry of visa are not a drain on the resources but contributors to economy as cheap labor. For shelter they may occupy a dirty corner of a slum but only to be able to serve the affluent. These people have the right to be treated with dignity and in accordance with the rule of law. Children of people living without valid visa have the right to citizenship in the country of their birth. United States has to grant legal status to illegal migrant workers from Mexico every ten fifteen years.

The ones who go abroad for education, lucrative career and business are usually better off. At times they face visa problems but these are surmountable. We have 3.1 crore non-resident Indians settled abroad, including USA (32 lakh), Canada (12 lakh), UK (15 lakh), Middle East (70 lakh), Malaysia (24 lakh), Nepal (40 lakh), Myanmar (11 lakh), Singapore (3.5 lakh), Australia (3.9 lakh), South Africa (13 lakh, Mauritius (9 lakh) and other countries. The ones invited to India for investment are given extra incentives to run their business. We can’t have different attitudes towards working class emigrants and affluent emigrants.

Internal Migration

The migration within India is driven by the destabilization of villages by the worsening conditions of farmers, purchase and acquisition of lands by the rich and the state, lack of employment in the countryside, and lack of facilities for education, health etc. Advent of capital in the form of big projects displaces the locals due to mismatch of their skills with the project requirements. Land erosion by rivers like Brahmaputra adds to peoples’ miseries. As they move out from river shores to other areas they are branded by sectarian propaganda as foreigners (Bangladeshis). Sectarian violence has also been a factor contributing to migration, e.g., in Kashmir, Western UP, and other places.

Conditions of Migrants

Most migrant workers from villages to cities leave their families behind in the village. They can’t afford to rent a room in a regular colony and live in a slum (3-4 people together in a jhuggi) devoid of basic amenities like water, sewer line, toilet, bathroom, ration cards, voter cards, bank accounts, They lose their identity and many of them are branded as Bangladeshis or Biharis. Criminals operate in these areas in connivance with police. Jhuggis are prone to catching mass fire. The compensation paid in these cases is meagre. Stagnant water and mosquitoes are a severe health hazard. Schooling facilities in slums are very poor. Hospitals are hardly accessible. Back home the families without male members face severe security problems. Settlement of migrants must get top priority of the state.

Rickshaw pullers don’t have their own rickshaws (as registration has been closed for decades), hawkers don’t have permits. The wage workers have serious transport issues. Many people are engaged in small factories running in poor colonies. They learn these trades through apprenticeship. They deserve opportunities and support to start their own enterprises in future.

Migratory farm workers from Bihar to Kashmir or Assam to Kerela have been welcomed by the local people. Contract workers from Bengal to Gujarat, Maharashtra and elsewhere have also been accepted but there have been cases of ruthless sectarian violence that have shaken their confidence. Regionalism has also been a cause of apprehension in cities like Mumbai. These tendencies must be curbed.

National Register for Citizens

Assam is the only state in the country where National Register for Citizens exists. It was created in 1951. Now its update is underway. Its basic premise is unfortunate. The political parties that occupy power in the state now, have carried on long-standing propaganda to the effect that the state was infested with large percentage of Bangladeshis.

The voter list update in 1998 (that marked D against doubtful voters) and subsequent tribunals’ findings indicate that less than one percent of Muslim population in Assam is Bangladeshis. The current update is being done under Supreme Court monitoring.

The first draft released on January 1, 2018 carried 1.9 crore names in a population of 3.4 crore. Yet people maintain hope that their names will figure in the second draft. The task of presenting the proof of citizenship is tough. An applicant is required to find the name of his or her father or grandfather or great grandfather in either of the three places: NRC of 1951 or voter list of 1966 or voter list of 1971. Then one has to submit the proof of his/ her link with this person, by producing documents, that have applicant’s name and his/ her father’s name, father’s name and grandfather’s name, grandfather’s name and  great grandfather’s name. For girls, who never went to school, this was extremely difficult to establish. For them Supreme Court has made certificate from Gram Panchayat admissible, subject to verification of its authenticity and contents. The state must maintain transparency in the process and must not let partisan officers to sabotage the process.

(These are Recommendations of the seminar was jointly organized by Delhi School of Social Work, DU and Sadbhavna Mission.)

About the Seminar

It was attended by 70 academics and social activists. It debated the issues related to migrant workers in national and global perspective. The opening remarks by Prof. N. Agnimitra and Prof. V.K. Tripathi, invited talks by Shri Mohammad Adeeb, Shri F. Ayyubi, Shri Vikas Narain Rai, Ms. Humra Qureshi, Prof. Imtiazuddin,  Prof. P.C. Behera, Ms. Niti Deoliya, Prof. Shamsul Islam, Prof. Bhatt, Prof. Subhendu Ghosh, Ms. Alexendra Robin and presentations by scholars covered various aspects, ranging from causes of migration, plight of migrant workers and their fundamental rights to the National Register of Citizens update undergoing in Assam.

Feature Image by Sheela Sarma


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