As BJP leader K Surendran targets Kerala's Bengali migrant workers, activists fear for social harmony of state

Migrant workers from north-eastern states have been feeling insecure in Kerala in the aftermath of the cold-blooded murder of a 21-year-old college student allegedly by a migrant labourer from West Bengal at Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district on 30 July. Senior BJP leader K Surendran has compounded the fear by alleging the presence of a large number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh among the estimated three million migrant workers living in the state and sounding a warning about the threat they pose to the country's internal security.

Surendran, a senior BJP state general secretary, said in a statement on 2 August that thousands of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants had reached the state with the help of fake documents and some of them were engaging in criminal and anti-national activities affecting the safe living of the people in the state.

He said many of them have obtained ration cards and some even enrolled themselves in the electoral list in the state. He urged the state and Central governments to identify these illegal immigrants and deport them back to Bangladesh. Surendran said that he had taken up the issue in the wake of intelligence reports that there could be a fresh influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into south India after the publication of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) by the Assamese government.

 As BJP leader K Surendran targets Keralas Bengali migrant workers, activists fear for social harmony of state

File image of K Surendran. Facebook

"Bangladeshi immigrants have been fleeing Assam following the tightening of security by the state government after launching the process for the preparation of the NRC. They find Kerala a safe place to settle as the security is weak in the state and they can easily blend with the Bengali-speaking migrants," the BJP leader said.

He alleged that illegal immigrants were even getting support from certain quarters in the state. He said that some radical outfits could be using the Bangladeshi immigrants in smuggling arms and engage them in criminal and terror activities. "Unless the state government wakes up and take steps to identify and deport the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Kerala will soon become another Assam," Surendran warned.

Migration experts feel that the alarm raised by the BJP leader could make life difficult for the migrant workers, who have come from states like West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to fill the slots left vacant by unskilled and semi-skilled Keralites who have migrated to Gulf countries for better pastures. Father Shin Kallungal, director of Jeevika, a voluntary organisation working among migrants said there were protests against the migrants from local people in the wake of the murder of Nimisha Thampi allegedly by Biju Mulla (32), a factory worker from Murshidabad in West Bengal during an attempted theft.

Large groups of people thronged the factory where Mulla worked and shouted slogans against the migrant workers and police. The Catholic priest said no untoward incident had occurred as many had relocated to safe places and some even took shelter in police stations as soon as the news about the murder spread.

"The migrant workers had taken precautions as there were angry reactions from the local people against them following the murder of a law student at Perumbavoor two years ago. We had to work hard to convince them that this was an isolated incident and the entire community could not be blamed for the wrong done by one man,” the priest said.

Kallungal said the reports regarding large-scale influx of Bangladeshi immigrants are highly exaggerated. He said that he had not come across any such cases during his interaction with the migrant workers in the last two years. However, he said that it was difficult to identify the Bangladeshi immigrants as the migrants keep moving from place to place.

"The police had arrested seven migrants on suspicion of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh a few years ago. There were no serious criminal cases against them. They were questioned and sent back by the police," he said.

He added that a vast majority of the migrants were poor workers, who have come to Kerala due to lack of job opportunities in their home states. Their biggest attraction in the state are the high wages in the unorganised sector and a peaceful living atmosphere. "The migrants are the backbone of the statess development. If they leave the state, many projects will come to a standstill. And yet, Keralites are not thankful to the migrants. They treat them as second-class citizens. Any move that will fuel hatred against them will be costly for Kerala," he added.

There have been several incidents of mob attacks on migrant workers. The latest in the series is the attack on a migrant labourer from West Bengal after accusing him of stealing a hen. Fifty-year-old Manik Roy died a month later due to the injuries he suffered in the attack. In a similar incident in 2016, another migrant worker from Assam was killed by a mob who suspected him to be a thief. Kailash Jyothi Behra (31) was forced to lie down on the road under the searing sun after being brutally beaten by a group of 50 villagers at Chingavanam in Kottayam district.

Professor NP Hafiz Mohammed, social activist and political commentator, fears that the BJP leader's statement may put migrants under a cloud of suspicion. Terming the statement mischievous, he said that it could be seen only as part of the saffron party’s attempt to create communal polarisation before the upcoming General Election. "The BJP has been trying to make inroads into Kerala by evoking religious sentiments among the majority community. As the party failed to gain electoral dividends from the move, it is now using the issue of Bangaldeshi immigration as a tool to further the party’s political interests," Hafiz said.

He termed this dangerous in a state like Kerala where people of different faiths have been living in harmony. The move will sow the seeds of religious, communal and linguistic hatred and would ultimately affect the unity of the country.

"If Bangladeshis have infiltrated into Kerala, there are enough legal mechanisms to identify them. I am sure the police is doing its job. Any campaign against the Bangladeshi immigrants may bring all the migrants from the north-eastern states under the clouds of suspicion. This will not be in the interest of the state," the professor said. However, police officials admit that the infiltration of Bangladeshi immigrants into the state is a reality. A senior police officer said the interrogation of some of the Bangladeshi immigrants arrested by them had revealed a network of touts facilitating the infiltration in connivance with the soldiers and the officials.

The officer, who chose to remain anonymous, said that the illegal immigrants they caught had come to India by bribing the soldiers on the India-Bangladesh border. The agents helped them get fake identity cards enabling them to work and live anywhere in the country. A report said that the illegal immigrants find Kerala ideal for migration as there are very few interceptions in the state. A health insurance scheme introduced by the state government for migrants has helped it further. It provides legitimacy to the illegal immigrants. So far, the government has issued over 62,000 AAWAZ health insurance cards to the migrant workers.

Entry into the southern state also help the illegal immigrants to move to other southern states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Immigration from Bangladesh extends into Kerala through a migration corridor starting at Bangladesh through Assam and West Bengal.

The police officer said that it was difficult to nab the illegal immigrants as the there is no effective mechanism to identify them. Moreover, the illegal immigrants keep moving from one state to another with the help of touts.

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Updated Date: Aug 03, 2018 14:54:28 IST