The Chennai Central railway station is witnessing a rush of migrant workers heading home, but they say this journey is not out of fear of attacks, but for the joy to celebrate Holi with their families.
Tamil Nadu police has cracked down on rumours of attacks on migrant labourers, particularly those from Bihar. The labourers NDTV spoke to said they are not afraid. Those in the state’s industries also hope that the outreach and reassurance will help.
Forty-two-year-old Santosh, a construction labourer from Odisha, is waiting for his train. He moved to Chennai about seven years ago and now earns nearly Rs 20,000 a month. The income supports his wife and three children back home, about 1,500 km away.
Santosh said he is headed home not out of fear, but because he wants to spend Holi with his family. “I will return after 2 weeks. I want to celebrate Holi with my family. Also, I am also slightly unwell,” he told NDTV.
Most workers waiting for their trains at the Chennai station have watched or heard about the fake videos claiming attacks on migrant workers.
Saroj Kumar Sahoo, also from Odisha, now lives in Chennai and works in the construction industry. He refuses to believe that there is any anti-migrant sentiment in Tamil Nadu. In fluent Tamil, he says, “I have so many Tamil friends. If someone attacks me, ten of them will come to protect me. We are like brothers.”
Twenty-one-year-old Mohan is from Bihar. A Class VIII dropout, he now works as a loadman in Chennai and makes about Rs 8,000 a month. Many like him said they would definitely return because earning such money back home is a “dream”.
“There is opportunity for people like me in Tamil Nadu. We go to states where we can work. We will definitely return,” said Mohan.
Another Bihar migrant, Sudhir, works as a crane operator in Chennai. “I earn Rs 20,000 here, I would be happy to work in Bihar even if I am offered Rs 10,000. But it is a useless government. No work for us,” he said.
A 2015 survey had found about 11.5 lakh migrant workers in Tamil Nadu. About six years later, when the pandemic was on, authorities said about six lakh workers had registered to return home. Post pandemic, the number of migrant workers is estimated to be around Rs 25 lakh. A survey is currently underway.
Joining Tamil Nadu Police in the crackdown against attack rumours, Bihar police have arrested a person accused of sharing fake videos.
Authorities from both states have launched a massive outreach to migrant workers in Chennai, Coimbatore and other cities to dispel any fear.
Tamil Nadu police have registered a case against state BJP chief K Annamalai under charges of inciting violence and promoting enmity.
Dr Sylendra Babu, state police chief, said only the investigation would reveal if the rumours were spread as part of a conspiracy. “Four videos are from other states, but they were misrepresented as Tamil Nadu incidents. One video shows a clash between Bihari and Jharkhand workers in Tamil Nadu, and another a brawl involving local people. Migrants were not targeted at all.”
There are some murmurs of concern in the sectors that primarily employ migrants, such as construction. But industry representatives feel the quick intervention at the government as well as the employer level has reassured the migrants.
S Sridharan, director of LYRA properties and chairman (policy – housing and urban development) of realty firms’ confederation CREDAI national, told NDTV, “We have reassured the migrants, and the government has also reached out. We are sure they will be back. We are not worried.”
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