COIMBATORE: Nitish Kumar, who works at a marble factory at the Small Industries Development Corporation (SIDCO) Industrial Estate on the outskirts of the city, is from Muzaffarpur in Bihar. He has been living here for seven years.
“We go to a private hospital in Sundarapuram, whenever we fall sick. People there do not completely understand Hindi, but we somehow manage. And we don’t go to the hospital often as we fall severely ill rarely, because we get provisions and cook our food,” says Nitish.
Like Nitish, there are around 20 people living in five dingy rooms on top of a private marble factory. They do not mind spending the money in a private hospital as they are serious about their health, and the nearest government hospital is very far away for them to reach.
After demonetisation, the company exchanges the notes for them and also some of the workers have been provided with the ESI card. They get to visit their home once or twice a year.
Raja Babu (22), who is also from Bihar, says some arrangement, like appointing a Hindi-speaking nodal officer, would go a long way in helping them. In such a set up, ration, medical, banking and other facilities could be availed of easily.
“After demonetisation, we are unable to send money to our families and also deposit in banks because we do not have an account. Company pays us in cash. We are forced to carry it around, but we are scared to keep it all the time. We come here to earn. If anything goes wrong, we cannot even seek help from police as they do not understand our language. Also chances are high that they would ignore us because we are from another place,” says Raja Babu.
That their fears do not vanish with time proves the experience of Tuntun Prasad (40) and Pratima Devi (33), who have been living in Coimbatore for the last 20 years. Prasad does casting work in a foundry on weekly wages, while Devi is a homemaker.
Prasad has not been paid his salary since demonetisation. Unlike other migrant labourers, they have ration and identity cards in their local addresses. “Post-demonetisation, we have been given a loan by shopkeepers and others. It’s not a dire situation. People are helpful. However, people here look down upon us. That too despite us earning our bread, people here do not understand us,” Devi says.
Mapping of interstate migrant workers in 2015 puts their population at 1,29,200. Of this, only around 8,000 are from South India and Maharashtra. The rest are from Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan.