“Ekhane kaaj nei, khawa nei, ki korbo…. Jete toh hobei”
(There is no food, no work here, what else can we do? We will have to go”)
This quote sums up the plight of millions of migrant workers returning to West Bengal. While many of us work from the comfort of our homes there are still millions of people venturing out for work on an everyday basis.
West Bengal ranks fourth amongst the States from where people migrate, according to the 2011 Census. Around 5.8 lakh people have migrated from Bengal between 2001 and 2011.
Often, violence against migrant workers has been unacknowledged by the government, which is one of the crucial problems we face today. The migration of workers is an issue that is unrecognized in today’s listed global problems. Although this has always been an issue, the pandemic has made people more aware of the situation.
Poverty, lack of opportunities, and no basic education compels migrant workers to opt for deplorable working and living conditions. It forces them to compromise with the unjust demands of their employers and agents leaving them helpless and vulnerable.
Not having the option to choose their work or their wage denies them their basic human rights.
Violation against women and children is seen as a major concern as these migrant workers are also subjected to gender-based violence, where the spouses who have to accompany their husbands are involuntarily involved in the labour without making them eligible for any rightful wages or benefits. Long hours of labour, no access to basic medical facilities, lack of food and dilapidated shelter is what they experience. It is a violation of the minimum wage Act which they are unaware of.
Today, so many walk out of their state to find an opportunity to survive with no registration and no legal documents. They neither have access to justice at the work destination nor once they return to their home state.
Migrant workers are prone to social, psychosocial, emotional trauma stemming from their concerns for the well-being of their families and fear of being mistreated by the employers for not succumbing to their demands. They move from a place where there are no resources available to a place where they’re deprived of their existence, falling prey to POWER!
The migrant workers also experience xenophobia and discrimination from the city folks, especially when they travel across the states for work. Often the local residents resent the migrants on the basis of their communities, gender, etc. citing that they disrupt the systems, work culture, environment, and often resort to physical violence to show their resentment.
Unorganised sectors like agriculture industries, textile industries, tea estates, brick kilns and many more still exist today to exploit this group of people.
Looking through the lens of hope and justice there is a change that we see today. Change in the recognition of the problem, acknowledging the violence against migrant workers, advocating for their basic rights is the first step towards freedom. We need more organised government bodies to systematically draw these migrant workers into a registered skilled labour organisation in order to provide them with their basic wages and recognize them as workers.
The registration of migration, creating more job opportunities in every state, larger advocacies amongst the stakeholders and an even distribution of revenue is what we need to work towards to mitigate the violence and injustice against these migrant workers. A lot of us are migrant workers too, the only difference is we have the privilege and are legally offered opportunities with the wages we deserve yet on the other face of battle there are 13.3 lakh migrant workers who are yet to realize their significance and their rights.
Written by a group of passionate writers
This article is from a set of submissions made during a Writeathon that was organised and is a group effort.