Kerala exodus: Migrant workers flee state as rumours of attacks spread on social media

Thiruvanathapuram: Migrants from eastern states working in Kerala have started flocking back to their states following rumours that they were being attacked and brutally killed in the state.

While various reports suggest about 400 workers have fled the northern districts of Kozhikode and Malappuram in the last three days leaving their employers in a quandary, a mini-exodus has started from the state's commercial capital of Kochi from Monday.

Migrant workers flock at Kannur railway station. Image courtesy SK Mohan

Migrant workers flock at Kannur railway station. Image courtesy SK Mohan

Rumours that migrants are not safe in the state were spread through audio clips and text messages in WhatsApp and Facebook. One such audio clip posted in a WhatsApp group said that a hotel owner in Kozhikode had beaten a Bengali worker to death.

This was followed by a series of messages in WhatsApp and Facebook that several migrant workers had been murdered in the state. One of the messages said that five Bengalis working in a hotel and other industries in the state were killed in the past two days. Gory pictures of dead bodies accompanied some of the messages.

"We do not know the reason for the sudden attack. We should be vigilant to protect our lives," a message shared by a hotel owner to The Times of India said. Another message said that the murders were ordered by the Marxist-led government to pave way for the jobless Keralites.

According to a Times of India report the messages started circulating after the suicide of a 30-year-old migrant worker from West Bengal at Vellayil in Kozhikode. The youth, who was working as a cleaning staff at a hotel, was found hanging in his room. Police have confirmed it as a suicide and termed love failure as the cause of death.

The messages started appearing in the social media after the body was taken to his hometown of Midnapur. One of the messages said that Hindi-speaking people in Kerala were being targeted and urged them to leave the state. The messages were widely circulated among the migrants in the state and their family members in their home states.

Most of the migrant workers have left following pressure from their family members.

"My family called me many times in panic. They feared that the situation was dangerous here and not to take any risk. My brother has already gone back. My family is compelling me to return," said Ayya, a migrant worker at Kozhikode.

He told the media that he was aware that the messages were mischievous and he may not leave the state. TV Mohammed Zuhail, Kozhikode district president of the Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Association, said that majority of the migrants who have fled the state were from the hotel industry.

"There is no reason for migrants working in hotels and restaurants to panic. The hotel workers are most safe since we are providing them accommodation and food. However, the migrant workers are not convinced. Many more are preparing to go. This will put the hotel industry in serious crisis since we are dependent on migrant workers for their functioning," said Zuhail.

He said that several hotels in the northern city were closed following the exodus. The association has lodged complaints with the district collector and the city police chief against the false campaign doing the rounds in the social media.

Police have not yet been able to identify the source of the chain of the messages and pictures. State police chief Lokanath Behera has ordered a technology-based probe into the false campaign. He told newsmen on Tuesday that it was not easy to identify the sources of messages appearing in the social media.

Behera has appealed to the migrant workers not to be panicked by the false propaganda. The appeal was made in Hindi and Bengali languages.

"Kerala is a peaceful state. There has been no incident of an attack on migrant workers in the state so far. Kerala needs you. The people will not cause any harm to you," he said adding that the migrants were free to approach him anytime if they faced any problem in the state.

Meanwhile, the state government has launched a massive campaign to build confidence among the migrants. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has directed the police to convene meetings of the migrants in all districts and remove their misgivings about their safety.

The government has also reached out to the governments in the eastern states to dispel the apprehensions in the minds of the family members of the migrants. The state police chief has written to his counterparts in Odisha, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu seeking their cooperation.

The chief minister alleged the "lies" were being spread from "the north of the country" to discredit the state and "destroy peace and harmony". He said that those who are behind the propaganda are forces who are trying to torpedo the peace and the cordial atmosphere prevailing in the state. He also sought to boost the confidence of the migrant workers by posting a message in Hindi on his Facebook page.

"There is no incident of violence or any unpleasant incident in Kerala against migrant workers in the recent past. My government assures all those affected by these rumours that their fear is unfounded and urge not to pay attention to such fake news. All the district administration and the police have been directed to take action against the spread of such lies and rumours through the social media," his message in Hindi said.

The chief minister pointed out that the Kerala government had taken several measures for the welfare of the migrant workers. Kerala is the first state to introduce a health insurance scheme for the migrant workers, he said. Vijayan assured the migrants on behalf of the government that they will not only be safe but also welcome in Kerala.

Ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan alleged that the false campaign among the migrant workers and their family members may be an offshoot of the propaganda being unleashed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh combine that Kerala is a land of terror.

He said that the RSS was trying to create fear in the minds of the families of the migrant workers with the objective of paralyse the life in the state. Migrants, who came to fill the void left by about 2.75 million Keralites who have migrated abroad in search of greener pastures, play an important role in the state economy. The number of migrants in the state is estimated to be around four million.

The state police chief refused to comment on the political angle to the false propaganda. He said that he will not be able to say anything unless the source of the messages is identified. Behera said that the police were trying their best to identify the source with the help of cyber experts.

Updated Date: Oct 10, 2017 22:16 PM

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