Nobody cares about us | The plight of a migrant worker Kajal Sheikh opens his heart out to CJP fellow Tinku Sheikh

16, Jan 2023 | Tinku Sheikh

Ten years ago, 30-year-old Kajal Sheikh, who hails from Bengal’s Birbhum district’s Margram Village, used to work as a construction worker. When I met him sometime ago, it was a regular working day for Sheikh and his busy body language revealed that he is on his way to his new work, the only way to fend for his family. I wondered why he doesn’t work as a migrant labourer anymore. In the midst of his busy day, he shared some of his previous lives’ stories with me. Kajal says, without flinching, “Ten years ago, I used to travel to Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and many other places for work. We used to work under different contractors on those various sites. Even though initially we were getting paid on time, it was during the time of our annual visit to home that we found out that they were keeping a month’s payment due. For all of us. We were shocked. We needed that money badly before we could go home. But we couldn’t do much about it.”

Even though the people-in-charge had assured Kajal and his co-workers that the money would come to their account very soon, that wasn’t the case. Sometimes one or two of them would get a very small amount deposited to their account – meagre instalments – but never would they receive the full amount. Eventually, most of these workers were cheated of their due salaries. The contractors ended up taking their hard-earned money. This went on for a while. Fed up and partially depressed, Sheikh decided to change his job.

CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program is a unique initiative aiming to give voice and agency to the young, from among the communities with whom we work closely. These presently include migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis and forest workers. CJP Fellows report on issues closest to their hearts and home, and are making impactful change every day. We hope to expand this to include far reaching ethnicities, diverse genders, Muslim artisans, sanitation workers and manual scavengers. Our raison d’etre is to dot India’s vast landscape with the committed human rights workers who carry in their hearts Constitutional values, to transform India into what our nation’s founders dreamt it to be. Please Donate Now to increase the band of CJP Grassroot Fellows.

After Sheikh decided to quit going to outstation for work, his family helped quite a bit. They knew of his frustration and agony and decided to pitch in some money that bought him a machine to process puffed rice. He started making puffed rice and slowly people, from his own village, started coming to his shop to get their puffed rice processed. He started charging ten rupees per kilo of puffed rice. The business bloomed, little by little. Soon people from neighbouring villages started coming to his shop to get their rice processed. With the help of this shop, he is trying to turn his life around. 

Kajal Sheikh

Sheikh says, “My father has a little bit of land so it affected me less than those who depended on that amount of their day to day expenses or for their special needs. I could eat and have a roof over my head but not everyone is so lucky. Anyway, I never worried much about money since money only belongs with the rich.” With the money that he makes – after all of his business expenditures, rent, cost of electricity, man power, he’s able to keep a little bit of money to run his household, to look after his parents, his wife and little children. 

Sheikh’s construction work days are long over. But he feels very strongly about the plight of migrant workers like him. He feels that the Government should be involved in making policies so that the labourers’ money is not being held back by the corrupt system of contractors and builders. There should be enough protection for them from the emotional and financial violence of the higher authorities, who care very little about the well being of the poor workers. “It is the poor who ultimately suffer the most. We are just destined to suffer and no one even takes notice. Life goes on for most of us but how many of us actually think about the agony of migrant workers?”

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Tinku Sheikh

Second of three brothers, Tinku Sheikh had realised it won’t be possible to continue his education beyond class 8,  the family’s economic condition was bad and he left to look for work in Mumbai in 2010.  When the lockdown struck, Tinku had first come in contact with Citizens of Justice and Peace (CJP) in April 2020 – the CJP volunteers had been helping migrant workers stranded in Mumbai,  in the wake of the sudden Covid-19 lockdown. Tinku had reached out and sought emergency supplies on behalf of  five other workers. On the resumption of interstate travel, Tinku went back home to West Bengal and documented the journey. 

Tinku has been at home in West Bengal ever since. The 27-year-old Sheikh has a young wife and a 4-year-old daughter, and aged parents to support.  This undefeatable CJP Grassroots fellow hopes that he will continue to chronicle and share the real stories of workers like him who feel they have been betrayed by the political class. 

Image: Representational


Tinku Sheikh: Migrant worker who became a CJP Grassroots Fellow

CJP Fellow Tinku Sheikh brings to us unseen images of rural Bengal


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Go to Top
Nafrat Ka Naqsha 2023