Jisha murder aftermath: Govt introduces social security scheme to protect migrants

The Kerala state government is all set to bring in a social security scheme to ensure that the migrants working in Kerala are assimilated into its society.

Naveen Nair June 23, 2016 23:01:30 IST
Jisha murder aftermath: Govt introduces social security scheme to protect migrants

Assam resident Ameerul Islam is accused of the gruesome rape and murder of a Dalit law student in Ernakulam, Kerala, and his arrest a week ago sparked off a torrid debate on whether there is a need to maintain a database for migrant labourers entering the state in search of livelihood.

Rumours abounded too, of an exodus of the migrant population, fearing a backlash. But the Kerala state government is all set to bring in a social security scheme to ensure that the migrants working in Kerala are assimilated into its society.

A pioneering effort of sorts in the country, this is undoubtedly a step beyond just a mere registration of migrants. An official announcement is expected soon.

Jisha murder aftermath Govt introduces social security scheme to protect migrants

Representational image. Reuters

For the 40 lakh-odd migrant population in the state (as per 2016 records), which is growing at a fast rate of close to 2.3 lakhs every year, this step might come as a huge relief. “The government does not feel that all migrant workers are criminals. There may be a section which is doing mischief. But they have every right to work in Kerala just like in any other place. The problem is that till now we had no records of these people. So we have now decided to bring them all under one workers’ beneficiary scheme so that they enjoy all benefits at par with workers here. The blueprint of this will be ready soon,’’ said TP Ramakrishanan, Kerala’s labour minister.

The CPM-led LDF (Left Democratic Front) government hopes that this is the right step to bringing accountability amongst this large floating population. A separate allocation for this scheme may also feature in the next state budget. Also for the Left, the policy falls in line with their ideology of protecting the working class, be it migrant or local.

The state government hopes to make the scheme work for both sides. Not only will it bring the migrant workers under the usual benefits enjoyed by the local residents, including medical insurance and death claims, but it will also help the government keep a tab on their activities and sort out the mischief-mongers from the genuine workers.

Activists are welcoming the move. Many say this would help to break down the cultural barriers and make it easier for the migrant community to assimilate into the middle class fabric of Kerala.

“After all this is a land which believes in the slogan, ‘workers of the world unite’. So it is better we start this assimilation process and wipe away the cultural differences,’’ said CR Neelakandan, an activist based in Ernakulam. Neelakandan also adds that it is important for Kerala to realise why it needs to retain its migrant work force. “We all need to understand that Kerala’s economy will break down the moment these migrants leave. Almost every sector is dependent on them. That’s the reality,’’ he added.

Neelakandan’s words stand testimony to the huge influence the migrant population has on Kerala’s economy. It is also for the same reason that Kerala can never think of going the Maharashtra way in antagonising its migrant population. There is certainly more at stake here than just ‘twisted nationalism’, say Left leaders.

The arrival of the first batch of migrant workers to Kerala a decade ago was seen as a boon for the state’s struggling manpower. From then on it has been a symbiotic relationship that the state has enjoyed with the migrants. What the Gulf has been for the average Malayali, Kerala has been for the worker from Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and even Odisha for years.

While a worker in any of these states gets between Rs 100 to 150 after a day’s hard labour, in Kerala, the worker makes between Rs 800 to 1000 a day, allowing him to send out an annual remittance of Rs 25,000 crore from the state. Every year close to 2.35 lakh migrant workers land up in the southern state looking for jobs.

For the state too, their retention is crucial. Thousands of business establishments ranging from construction to hospitality, manufacturing to agriculture are run by migrant hands alone. Contractors admit that migrant workers are the lifeline of the state and one glimpse at the little town of Perumbavoor, the scene of the gruesome rape-murder, a stone’s throw away from Cochin, will prove why.

There is hardly anything in the town that would give away its existence as a part of Kerala. It is more akin to a busy Tier III town in West Bengal or Odisha.

Signboards in Bengali and Oriya greet the visitor to this little town. Theatres run Bengali and even Bhojpuri films. Churches have special masses in Hindi, Bengali and Oriya. Some migrants have bought lands, married from the local community and are settled here. But still the assimilation into local society has been painfully slow.

Father Sabu Malayil, who runs the Jeevika Migrant Workers Movement, says that it would take some time for the average Malayali to except the migrant worker as one of his own.

“Today if you want to build a house you need a Bengali or an Oriya to do your mason work. You need him to sweat it out for you, but when it comes to dealing with a problem that he faces, you will just turn away. This attitude of the Malayali has to change. We need to understand that a migrant worker is here because he needs work,’’ said Father Malayil.

People like Father Malayil who have been working for migrant workers’ welfare hope the new step by the government would sort out at least a few of the problems. But experts on migration studies are not ready to bite yet. They say social security measures need to be voluntary in nature and should never be enforced upon anyone just because the person hails from a different state.

Binoy Peter, who heads the Centre for Migratory Studies and Inclusive Development, says such measures need to be tailormade for the worker who will never stick to one place forever.

“Most importantly the schemes should be portable and voluntary. Otherwise it will never work because these people are seasonal in their movements. If a worker registers in, say Cochin, works here for five years and then goes back to Khandamal, he should be able to receive the benefits there too. Government should ensure this. Otherwise this will be a meaningless exercise,” added Peter.

While the state government strongly believes in the dictum that a few rotten apples don’t spoil the entire basket, it would also not like to ignore the concerns of the police force. According to the State Crime Records Bureau, in the last five years alone 1,200 criminal cases of various kinds ranging from theft to murder to rape have been registered against migrant workers. A sudden spurt in narcotic cases in the last two years is also attributed to the migrant population who are easy carriers.

All of this means the state government has on its hands a Herculean task, not to forget the sheer numbers of an ever-growing migrant population. Spirits, however, seem to be running high for now.

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