Gujarat migrant crisis: No exodus in Thakor-dominated Becharaji; locals credit rapid development for peace in area

Editor's Note: The rape of a 14-month-old girl by a migrant labourer from Bihar in Idar town of Sabarkantha district on 28 September gave way to the persecution of migrant labourers in seven of the 33 districts of Gujarat. This incident ignited anger against migrant workers whom the locals believe are the real reason for unemployment in the state. This multi-part series will examine issues concerning migrant workers and the animosity they face from locals.

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Becharaji: The northern part of Gujarat was gripped by frenzy during the recent recent outburst of violence against non-Gujaratis, especially north Indians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar following the arrest of a Bihari factory worker in connection with the rape of a 14-month-old girl of the Thakor community. However, the internationally known automobile industry hub, Becharaji remained almost completely peaceful, despite all the Thakor-dominated villages in the area. Migrant workers elsewhere were mostly targeted in the areas where Thakors were in significant numbers. The ruling BJP time and again has alleged that Alpesh fueled the violence with his hate speeches against migrants after the rape incident.

Becharaji, a temple town on the border of Mehsana and Ahmedabad districts, hosts thousands of migrant labourers. Maruti Suzuki’s plant is situated in Hansalpur village at a walkable distance from Becharaji town, while the plants of Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India Ltd are in Vithalapur, around 30 kilometres away, along the Gujarat State Highway 7. Close to these units are around 20 medium and small-scale ancillary units. Apart from numerous colonies for migrant labourers in the area, there is also a spot close to Sitapur along the highway where special accommodations and eateries for Japanese workers have been set up. The Maruti Suzuki plant was inaugurated in January 2015 while the Honda two-wheeler plant that manufactures its popular Activa brand of scooters became functional a year later in February 2016.

Former Sarpanch of Hansalpur Ajmalji Thakor.

Former sarpanch of Hansalpur Ajmalji Thakor. Image: Rajnish Mishra

Locals, including the leaders of the dominant Thakor community, give the credit for the peace during the recent anti-migrant violence to the rapid development in the area and how that has benefitted everyone in the area. Former sarpanch of Hansalpur, where the Maruti plant is situated, Ajmalji Thakor says that the whole area has seen unprecedented development in the last few years and locals including those from his own Thakor community were fully aware of its benefits. “A large number of locals have also got jobs and other related works due to the development of industries the area. People from outside of Gujarat have also got jobs, directly and indirectly, and they were also contributing to the financial strength to the locals. Many of the locals have made labour colonies for them and earn rent. Why would anyone disturb the peaceful atmosphere which was conducive for all?,” he says.

Further illustrating the development of the area in last few years, towards which migrants have played an important role, Thakor remembers how a few years ago, Becharaji town wore a very lonely, almost deserted look soon after sunset. “It was difficult to get even a bottle of water in those days here as the markets closed quite early but now the town remains alive and abuzz till late at night,” he says.

A Gujarat-born native of Kerala, Rajesh Pillai, who runs a guest-house of 33 rooms near the famous Bahuchar Mata temple of goddess Bahucharaji, says that the Maruti and Honda plants and the related ancillaries have bettered the lives of locals. The locals have no clash of interest with the non-Gujarati migrants as the nature of work they did were mostly different and least preferred by the locals. “Migrants readily take up all kinds of work, including manual labour, but the locals normally don't like it. Also, the migrants, especially labourers mostly live here without their families, are happy to work overtime to make some extra bucks, but locals prefer to do 10-5 kind of jobs. They’d rather spend time with their families and attend to their other social duties than being readily available for overtime. Also, there is no dearth of jobs in this industrial region and the skill set required is not readily available locally,” says Pillai, who is well-connected with the local industries.

Pillai says that locals are well aware of how different things are now compared to barely a decade ago. They now get manifold more rates for their lands and markets remaining open till midnight has also meant more opportunities and businesses. Locals, including a large number of Thakors, have set up labour colonies in their barren lands. They drive vehicles and do other connected jobs at a much better remuneration than what they used to get even 5-6 years ago. “They used to work as drivers for a meagre salary of Rs 4000-5000 and now they easily get more than Rs 15,000 a month. Those who drive cars for the Japanese employees and engineers from the Maruti and Honda plants and other senior officials of the companies get even higher. Earlier Becharaji was connected with a single track road, which was abuzz only during the nine days of Navratri due to temple activities. The situation is now quite different. The locals know that if the peace is disturbed and industries affected, their livelihood would also take a hit,” he explains.

A Maruti Suzuki plant in Hansalpur on the outskirts of Becharaji town. Image: Rajnish Mishra

A Maruti Suzuki plant in Hansalpur on the outskirts of Becharaji town. Image: Rajnish Mishra

Naresh Thakar, who runs paying guest accommodations, is also a builder and owner of the Ratnavatika guest-house where more than 300 migrants live. He says there was some fear among outsiders for the first two or three days after the outbreak of violence in the neighbouring regions. But nothing untoward happened as locals did not support the violence. “Locals are enjoying the fruits of development. Earlier they were dependent on farming and were at the mercy of the rain gods. Now the whole area is developed, and there are jobs and businesses. Also, there is water because of the Narmada project. What else would they want? Why would they fight with migrants who were in a way a reason for the prosperity of the region and the happiness of locals? Why would they cut their own feet by attacking the migrants?” Thakar says. Another local Dipabhai Barot, who owns a large gaushala (cattle-shed) near the Maruti plant, also feels that there was no impact of anti-migrants protests in the area in and around Becharaji.

Bharatsinh Chauhan, Police Sub Inspector (PSI) of Ahmedabad Rural Police station, under which both the Maruti and Honda plants fall, confirms that not a single case of violence has been registered in the whole area where over a dozen ancillary units were also situated. “Despite the fact that there was a large population of migrants as well as Thakor community in the area, no untoward happening took place. We did not even do any preventive detentions. The people in the area were, of course, slightly wary for the first three days and some of the migrants also left but the situation remained normal. We had conducted meetings with all the industries, including Maruti and Honda units, and planned precautionary security measures and police deployment,” he said.

PSI of Becharaji police station AL Acharya also said that barring the incident of the preventive arrest of 14 youths, no other case with regard to hate-violence has been lodged in his area also. Notably, more than 600 people have been arrested in over 60 cases in connection with the violence and threats to migrants in northern Gujarat, of which more than 100 arrests each have been made in Mehsana and Ahmedabad districts.

The author is an Ahmedabad-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters’ grassroots network.


Updated Date: Oct 22, 2018 07:32 AM

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