CHENNAI: The recent incident of a migrant worker from Odisha being allegedly beaten to death by residents in Ennore has shed light on the shaky ground these workers live by in the state. Suspected of robbery, his body was cast away before the attackers simply absconded.
This lack of safety in life has a lot to do with the way they live and how they’re almost ‘invisible’ to the average Chennaiite. Take Govind for instance. Having moved here two years ago, his own co-workers have no idea where he migrated from. All they know is that he looks foreign, which his mild oriental slant and accented Hindi prompt. “Not from around here,” as one of the officers in the building where he works, puts it. He works as a security guard seven days a week, donning a faded uniform and having tucked a photo of his six-year old son in his wallet. “The money was good and I was not getting a job back home,” says the youth who left Nepal almost two years ago, in broken Tamil that he was adept enough to pick up. After many uncertain days, he found a job in T Nagar working 7 days as a security guard for a small complex of corporate offices, where he is paid `9,000 and given a small quarters to stay in. Staying thousands of miles away to earn his daily bread is the daily plight of migrant workers like him.
Migrant workers account for a significant number of the workforce in Chennai. Although studies done (2009-2010) reveal that over 3 lakh migrant workers, reside in Chennai they don’t talk about their wages or conditions. And since then with the scaling up real-estate ventures and development along the East Coast Road and the Old Mahabalipuram Road strips and many other parts of the city migrant construction workers have become a large community of local dwellers.
And for these migrants among whom a majority are from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa, an asbestos sheet covered shanty for a house and un-potable water for survival are stinging everyday realities they grapple with. A majority of these workers are sourced for manufacturing and construction, which is increasingly hard on them in the summer months.
The one respite that migrant workers hope for is to find work that gives them decent daily wages. “We get new migrant workers every other day who come work at the sites. There are both local men and the ones who come from places like Andhra and Orissa who come work for a day or two. Though they stay in makeshift houses, we’re able to at least give them watercans and tea,” says Saravanan S, who runs a small-scale real-estate company. Barely meters away, workers were catching a tea-break along Lattice Bridge Road, Adyar speaking in Hindi clearly looking foreign in a city they’ve lived in for months. They claimed to be making `300-350 a day, which of course included food, shelter, clothing and the weekly luxury of biriyani.