23, May 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
23-year-old Nazir Sekh, a migrant worker from a small village called Amdol in Birbhum, had been suffering from mental depression because he could not find work in the village for years. Finally, Sekh moved to Chennai city in February with the hope of earning enough money to sustain himself and send money back home. He began a temporary job as a mason in the Alimuddin Nagar Surapattu area of Ambattur district of Chennai. For whatever he would make, he would keep some for his food and travel and send the rest of the money home. Things were going alright until mid March and then the most unexpected happened.
On the 16th of March, Nazir left his temporary residence, an accommodation he shared with his coworkers, in the morning. He told his roommates that he was going to buy groceries. But he never returned. They found out that his phone was unavailable. When they couldn’t find his whereabouts at all, his colleagues informed Nazir’s family a couple of days later. Upon getting this news, the family was in shock, understandably so. Not only had they lost the only earning member of the family but they didn’t have any resources to figure out his whereabouts anywhere around Chennai. They contacted our office in Citizens for Justice & Peace and Bangla Sanskriti Manch, when all their efforts to find him went in vain.
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CJP, Bangla Sanskriti Mancha and its allies got to work almost immediately. We emailed the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and Police Administration of Tamil Nadu seeking their cooperation. Chennai city police contacted us after receiving the email. Chennai police launched a thorough search around the city. Through major difficulties, they were finally able to locate Nazir on April 6th. Chennai City Police called and asked Nazir’s family to contact the police station. Nazir’s friends present in Chennai went to the police station and brought Nazir back home.
A couple of days later, I visited Nazir’s father Jahangir Sekh at their small house in Amdol. I had so many questions to ask him. I wanted to know what had happened to Nazir. Why did he run away? How did the police locate him? Where is he now? Jahangir had tears in his eyes. He said, “The police came to know that my son was suffering from depression and anxiety amongst other mental health issues. He had major differences with his wife, and wanted to run away from everyone. His depression was catapulted because of the lack of solid income. Even though he is married for only one year, he and his wife has had no time to solidify their relationship due to the financial and mental constraints. My son is the sole earner of the family but I will never send my son out of state for work again.” His eyes shined when he came towards me to thank us for our efforts. “I am grateful to Bangla Sanskriti Manch and Citizens for justice and peace, because it is because of them that I got my son back. I had lost all of hope of finding him when I went to many political figures but came home hopeless and without any help. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Coincidentally, just one week after this, another migrant labourer called Fultu Sekh of Birbhum, went out selling tin boxes in Darbhanga district of Bihar. Like Nazir, he is the sole owner of his family. On April 11th, his roommates in Darbhanga informed his family that he did not return home at night. They told his parents that like every day, he went out in the morning to sell tin boxes and drums in the Jamalpur area, but he did not return home even at midnight. Fultu’s wife Sabina Begum rushed to Jamalpur after hearing about her husband’s disappearance. Jamalpur police station should have filed a missing complaint immediately but initially the complaint was not being accepted. Feeling dejected, Sabina contacted us at CJP and Bangla Sanskriti Manch.
Just like we worked during Nazir’s disappearance, our organisations informed Bihar Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and DGP about the incident through email. The Bihar Chief Minister directed the DGP to look into the matter. It is then that the Jamalpur police station lodged a missing complaint and got to work. On April 25th, Fultu Sekh was rescued from the Varanasi area of Uttar Pradesh after the police got a phone call from his phone number.
When I spoke to Sabina Begum, she said, “my husband called from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and complained of drowsiness, heaviness and intoxication. He said that someone poisoned his food, and led him to a foreign state for something that he suspects is hugely diabolical. He is very grateful to get back his sanity in the middle of all this and to be back home.”
We have had many such experiences while working with migrant workers. Human trafficking is rampant. There are many destitute families who are still searching for their children even after many years. Unable to bear financial and mental stress, many young workers have committed suicide. Due to legal complications, the bereaved family generally rushes to bring their bodies back home.
Hence we at CJP and Bangla Sanskriti Manch have been steadily demanding for a separate department for migrant workers from both the central and state governments. We are also demanding for the setting up of help centres and databases for migrant workers in every panchayat area. An area-wise (panchayat level or district level) database of migrant workers can ensure quick administrative intervention in case of any emergency. And until these demands are met, our struggle will continue.
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.