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.
Vadodara: The atmosphere in affected districts of Gujarat seems to have returned to normal after two stressful weeks during which the north Indian migrant population in these areas was subjected to harassment, threats and violence, in the aftermath of the rape of a 14-month-old girl by a Bihari labourer in Sabarkantha district on 28 September. In Vadodara, there have been no reports of violence against north Indians in the past few days and no police complaints. Additionally, the migration rate has also reduced. But, those who were chased by stone-pelting mobs, and survived, are living in constant anticipation of danger.
A few days after incidents of violence against north Indian migrant workers by Gujarati locals agitating over the lack of preference to them for jobs subsided, the Ahmedabad helpline of the Uttar Bharatiya Vikas Parishad (UBVP) received a call from Vadodara on 12 October. The caller identified himself as Mahendrasinh Rathod.
While speaking to the UBVP's national president Shyamsinh Thakur, Rathod requested help to ensure that the Vadodara City Police puts up a permanent check-post at Brahmanagar, behind the Harni Airport area in the city. Rathod was concerned about the safety of around 100 migrant families from northern and central states who live in the area and were attacked on 9 October by a stone-pelting mob. They claimed that the mob had emerged from the neighbouring residential colony developed by the Vadodara Urban Development Authority.
The UBVP chief assured Rathod that he would speak to the DCP of the area or even the city police commissioner if needed, to provide police protection to families.
This was not an isolated phone call to the UBVP helpline, which continues to receive at least 20 to 50 calls a day from migrant workers and their families seeking help or providing information about their ordeal at the hands of locals, says Virendrasingh Rajput, the Ahmedabad secretary, UBVP, who handles the helpline.
Saying that calls seeking help reduced by mid-October, Rajput compares the volume with last weekend (6 to 8 October), when they were attending to 750 to 800 calls a day from various parts of northern and central Gujarat. "That number has reduced. No cases of violence against north Indians has been reported, but harmony among the locals and north Indians is missing and people are feeling insecure," he says.
Thakur says the Parishad assisted thousands of migrant labourers by arranging for shelter and other needs over the past two weeks. A group of around 30 labourers, including women, who approached the UBVP from Jankh Industrial area on 7 October, were given shelter at UBVP office bearer Mahendra Gupta’s residence on the first night. They were shifted to a temporary camp in Vastral the next day. As the situation turned normal and industrial unit took responsibility for their safety, they returned to Jankh on Thursday, Thakur says.
He says that in its effort to keep the migrant labourers' confidence in the state intact, the UBVP is organising trust-building meetings along with the city police. One such gathering of hundreds of people held on 10 October at Vatva Industrial Area was addressed by Joint Police Commissioner (sector-1) Ashok Kumar.
Brahmanagar's Rathod says around 200 families from north and central India are living in his neighbourhood, which is adjacent to the VUDA residential colony, where those under the low-income group have been allotted flats. "On Tuesday evening, without any provocation from our side, a 200-strong mob came out of the VUDA colony and started pelting stones on our residences. I suffered an injury to the head. The police did act on time and dispersed the mob, but also arrested more migrant labourers than those from the mob," he says.
Rathod says 13 of the migrant labourers were arrested, while the six locals arrested for instigating violence have been released on bail, and he fears that they will be targeted in the absence of any police protection.
"Since the incident, some 100 families have migrated, and only 100 other are left. A permanent police post is must to ensure their safety," says Rathod.
The author is an Ahmedabad-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
Updated Date: Oct 16, 2018 11:15 AM