Beyond the politicisation of migration distress

The struggles of the migrant workers became just another debate for news channels, but it was the will of a few activists like Medha Patkar that put the issue to the forefront.

Published: 13th March 2023 12:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th March 2023 01:00 AM   |  A+A-

Medha Patkar

Social activist Medha Patkar. (File photo | PTI)

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  Carrying the burden of unpredictability, with the will to fight the pandemic, people walked barefoot for almost 1,700-2,000 km. For thousands of migrants, the journey to a place of opportunities became a setback due to the sudden lockdown.

The struggles of the migrant workers became just another debate for news channels, but it was the will of a few activists like Medha Patkar that put the issue to the forefront.

Speaking at the national conference on Untold Stories of Distress Migration at Loyola College, Chennai, conducted in collaboration with Indian Social Institute, Bengaluru, Medha said, “We are not in electoral politics, but we are in people’s politics. If you want the whole value framework of the Constitution of India to be implemented, which has equality and justice, as the rules, we have to take up such issues, which depict the status of the present economy. It is not the GDP and the per capita income and the G20 conferences that can bring out these (issues) in the economy.”

Zooming into the issue

With a copy of the Constitution of India in her hand, Medha addressed a group of ignited students. She said, “The Constitution gives the basic right to life to every citizen. Migration takes place when the rights are violated.” She highlighted the status of the population of the indigenous communities that is reducing day by day in India. “They are the ones who are lacking in these basic needs for their life, which include not only education and health but also livelihood.

Medha Patkar at the national conference on Untold Stories of Distress
Migration at Loyola College | JONEs

Unfortunately, those communities which are rich in natural resources and human power are called poor communities. It is shocking and unacceptable. They are more organised and less divided comparatively despite casteism and communalism, and yet, they are considered unorganised. They are not socially and economically protected and are not provided with basic rights. Hence, they have to become the searchers and migration is in a way forced upon themselves,” she explained.

Of pain and plight
Asserting that it is important to understand the forces behind the migration, Medha continued, “The managers, those who invest money, and the owners of the factories are not the producers. Instead, those who do the manual labour which includes 95% of the working class, are the real builders, producers and distributors. The system which is ruling the working class is compelling them to leave behind their aged parents and children and much more.”

To give a clear-cut picture, the activist shared her experience with the construction workers of Pune. The workers from Assam, West Bengal, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh were working in the construction sites of Nanded City and Godrej City. Explaining their living conditions, she elaborated, “The workers were staying in a small tin shed along with their family. They were not able to cook food as the shed was always leaking. The irony is that they were doing the waterproofing job when they were facing such issues.”

Medha and her team went to Nanded City to enquire about the situation and were initially welcomed warmly. But, the situation changed after they insisted that they wanted to meet the workers. “The contract with the workers was that the company had assured them food and accommodation for four months. They were told that the work will begin soon after the pandemic, pressuring them to stay in the darkest living conditions.” The workers ended up running from the city after they couldn’t take it anymore. It was 2 am when they contacted Medha. She and her colleagues ensured that they safely reached the railway station and got into the trains.

Through all her stories, she put the spotlight on the pain and helplessness of the working class. Concluding her speech, she said, “To fight injustice, Pehle hisaab karo, hisaab do (Be accountable). This has to be a pledge that will shake you up and will place you in the heart of the economy. When you want to bring in a change, you will work in groups and not rest until the change is made. We should change the system which is full of inequity to stop migration. Meanwhile, that happens, at least ensure justice to the migrants.”

Migration in India

Migration in India 2020-21, a Periodic Labour Force Survey conducted by the National Statistics Office, which was an overview of migration from July 2020 to July 2021, reported that out of a total of 1,13,998 migrants, 51.6% of rural migrants left metropolitan areas during the pandemic.


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  • Sankaramani

    Why she failed to mentioned the recent happenings in Tamilnadu related to migration of workers. She conveniently omitted this problem in Tamilnadu
    6 months ago reply
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