Kerala, After The Flood: Local 'Samaritans' shun migrant workers from Bengal, Odisha and Assam; govt comes to their aid
Migrant workers claimed that many relief camps and volunteers in Kerala were told to leave their camps. There are about 8 to 10 lakh workers from West Bengal who have been working in Kerala. Most of them are in Ernakulam, Pathanamthitta, Wayanad and Palakkad districts, which are the worst-affected in the floods.
Editor's note: Described as one of the worst since 1924 by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the rains in Kerala have left over 350 dead and rendered thousands of people homeless. According to the latest tally, 80,000 have been rescued so far. Over 1,500 relief camps have been set up across the state that currently house at least 2,23,139 people. In a multi-part series, Firstpost will attempt to analyse the short-term and long-term impact of these unprecedented floods on the lives of the people, economy of the state, and the environment.
"Those who are bringing relief materials please don't forget migrant camps." In Ranni, I noticed that a few volunteers refused to give aid to migrant workers and were found looking for Malayalis. "Please don't discriminate. We have to save our land as well as the people who came trusting our land," says Sahadevan Negetropist, one of the volunteers.
Migrant workers claimed that many relief camps and volunteers were told to leave their camps. There are about 8 to 10 lakh workers from West Bengal who have been working in Kerala. Most of them are in Ernakulam, Pathanamthitta, Wayanad and Palakkad districts, which are the worst-affected in the floods. A rough estimate from the ground is that more than 1 lakh Bengali workers are in helpless conditions.
The workers and volunteers have put in a request with the West Bengal government to send a special team to take care of these workers and make arrangements for a special train to Ernakulam from Howrah via Alleppey, Trivandrum, Madurai and Chennai. The state government's order is crucial because the workers are currently living in low lands, most of which is under water, and soon may face shortage of food and drinking water.
The Kerala government and other independent organisations from different states have taken conginisance of the condition of the migrant workers and are reaching out to them in different ways. The labour department has started a centralised coordination system to help migrant labourers in Kerala who are affected by the floods and they will be based out of Thampanoor KSRTC stand. Migrant labourers across Kerala can seek help from the center and information will be provided in their own languages. One can call the centre on: 0471-2330833, 7012109743.
The locals, too, have been responding to the situation by turning up at the stations with food and supplies. Various social media posts started floating messages about the plight of the migrant workers and urged people to arrange for food and water.
"Brothers didn't leave hungry. At, 11 pm night, Anilettan (Anil Krishnan) posted on a WhatsApp group about the announcement of special train from Ernakulam for migrant workers. He told us we need to arrange food for these workers. Many unknown volunteers loaded food from indoor stadium. In three trips, we loaded food to station. With the help of a loading worker, we unloaded food at various sections of platforms," says Sarath Kalapthy, one of the volunteers, who was helping out the migrant workers.
There are various volunteer groups who are running multi-lingual call centres to cater to the needs of the Hindi, Bengali and Odiya migrant workers. The team is also catering to the needs of illiterate workers in the form of producing audio clips in their respective colloquial languages.
Migrant labourers hailing majorly from Bengal and Assam had started leaving Kerala by 18 August. They reached Howrah station on 20 August. On 19, there were three special trains (2.30 pm to Chennai, 6 pm to Howrah and 10 pm to Howrah)and one additional train at 11 pm to Howrah). On 20 August, there are three special trains (4.30pm till Bhubaneswar, 6.30 till Silchar, 11.30 till Howrah).
More than 12,000 labourers have already left Kerala and will reach Howrah station. Their travel was mostly free till Howrah and Chennai. But after reaching Howrah station, these workers will need of special attention. For those who are from Assam, either special trains or free road transport needs to be arranged, along with food and water supplies.
The next special train for migrant workers will start from Ernakulam South Station to Bhubaneswar on 24 August at 5.30 pm. Travel in this train will be free. The train is arranged by the Odisha government. While there are arrangements being made for the migrant workers for communication, transport and food, the larger question that looms here is the post-flood rehabilitation? Will the workers return to Kerala? Will the respective state governments be able to make necessary arrangements for the workers?
The trade union workers and the volunteers are pooling in efforts to rebuild workers' camps and tribal villages. "We are planning on inviting volunteers from different parts of the country to contribute towards reconstruction and rehabilitation work," says Sahadevan.
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