Teen migrant labour goes missing | How is the system failing them? CJP Fellow Ripon narrates a heartbreaking story of a 16-year-old migrant worker
31, Mar 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
On 22nd february 2023, a 16-year-old boy named Ripon from Abdullahpur village in Birbhum, who works as a daily wage labour in Kolkata, was returning home from the city. He called home from Howrah station and informed his mother that he would be reaching home in the next couple of hours. He last spoke to his mother when he was crossing Burdwan station. But, right after that, his family members were not able to contact him. Every time they called, his phone was switched off. They waited the entire day but Ripon did not return.
Ripon’s uncle Tinku Sheikh contacted me. When I visited their home, his devastated mother was being consoled by his father, Rezaul Sheikh. Surprisingly, they recently had a strange call from Ripon but he claimed that he was in Delhi. Rezaul told me, “there was a call from Delhi and my son just uttered ‘Save me’ father, I think I can’t go back home.” He also said that two men were chasing him. Ripon’s mother added, “The phone call was made from my son’s mobile phone but the voice was not of my son’s.” His phone has been switched off, since then, again. Everything sounded strange but we knew we had to get into action immediately and so we did.
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.
With the support of my organisations, CJP and Bangla Sansktiti Mancha, we kept contacting different organisations in Delhi, through various sources, with his name, age and physical description. The matter was also reported to the Murarai police station. An entire day went by and nothing came of it. When we were losing all hopes of finding him, his father’s phone rang again. From his very own number. This time his uncle Tinku had received a phone call. Tinku says, “On the opposite end of the line, the voice seemed to be of a decent gentleman. According to him, Ripon has been lying on the side of the road at the New Delhi Railway station. He was unable to express or recognise anything and only had been found with his mobile phone. He further suspected that he’d been drugged and left there.”
Even though the gentleman didn’t want to be named, he helped us immensely. He was on his way to Farakka. He booked tickets for Ripon in the same train as him and ensured that Ripon reached Farakka where his parents would be waiting for him. He was finally reunited with his parents on 25th February 2023. The gentleman dropped him off and was compensated for the train fare by his parents.
After reaching home, the parents found out that his physical and mental condition was in a bad shape. He was fatigued, couldn’t remember much and seemed drugged most of the time. He was admitted to the Murarai Rural Hospital and was under observation for a while. Even after that, he was unable to speak properly and seemingly, was unable to recognise most people he knew. It took him a couple of weeks to be deemed fit by the doctors. His mental health is still not recovered and he is hardly venturing out of his house.
The question remains – what happened to the young boy and how did he reach Delhi, that is thousands of miles away? Even though the dots cannot be linked in this particular case because of Ripon’s present mental health, there are hundreds of such missing cases of teenage migrant workers that are reported on a daily basis. Who is to be blamed for this? The system, the administration or the poor, who inevitably pay a hefty price?
We have been continuously witnessing incidents such as this but our repeated request to the West Bengal administration to figure out a system for migrant workers, especially young daily wage labourers, have fallen on deaf ears. All we want is for the Government to consider the protection of migrant workers and their rights. There should be at least one office at each panchayat level for the protection of migrant workers. This is the only way through which the rights of these people can be protected and some accountability can be taken in the matter of human rights violation.
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by aspiring journalist and student activist Ripon Sheikh from Birbhum in West Bengal. In these reports Ripon looks at the people around him – migrant workers, the families they leave behind, agricultural labourers, women who do housework, rural artisans and young people, with a keen sense of compassion.
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.
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