PUDR strongly condemns the attacks on migrants from Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh, who are being forced to flee from Gujarat as a result of violence unleashed by the Thakor community. About 50,000 Hindi speaking migrants have left Gujarat and returned to their native states the attacks began. Without jobs and homes, destitution stares them in the face.
Sporadic violence against migrants began from 28th of September. Massive protest marches in Himmatnagar led by the Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena with an alleged membership of 100,000 displayed posters and banners with photographs of a toddler, and circulated posters showing a martial figure running a sword through a “bhaiyya”, a pejorative term used for Hindi speakers. The administration chose not to intervene, and according to the migrants police told them to leave Gujarat. The license granted to the aggressive assertion of caste dominance by the Thakor Sena once again underlined caste relations in contemporary Gujarat.
Two reasons have been proffered for the attacks on migrants: the rape of minor girl from the Thakor community by a migrant worker on 28th September,and the situation of unemployment of locals. Curiously, the attacks happened two days after the Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani, made a declaration that his government would soon introduce a law that would mandate industries to ensure that 80 percent of the workforce are Gujaratis. The rape of the minor became a pre-text for the Thakor dominated Sabarkantha District to start its pogroms against migrant workers. The insider-outsider divide was used to create a climate of terror with death threats to Hindi-speaking migrants if they did not leave the state, beatings, raids and vandalism on factories employing migrant labour and threats to Gujaratis who had rented accommodation to the migrants. Many of the factory workers employed as casual labour were made to leave and not given wages by factory owners.
Forty-two attacks have been reported between 28th September and 3rdOctober. The administration only swung into action when the attack spread to five other districts: Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Patan, and Ahmedabad and Vadodra, and the number of migrants fleeing the state increased exponentially. The Armed Reserve Police force was deployed in areas such as the automobile hub of Sanand near Ahmedabad which houses the factories of Ford, Tata, Honda, and where 4000 of the 15,000 strong migrant workforce left. With 70% of the 10 million strong migrant work-force in the state coming from Bihar, UP, MP, Rajasthan and Bengal, the loss to industry would be huge. The strong administrative intervention to protect the interests of large industry by checking that the migrant workforce did not dwindle, is in stark contrast to its apathy towards the attacks on the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable sections i.e., migrant labour.
The cover-up operation since undertaken has ranged from the ridiculous with the DGP suggesting that workers were returning for Chhat Puja, to the blatantly false. The Chief Minister’s claim on 8th October that no “untoward incident” had occurred in the last 48 hours ignored incidents of godowns set on fire in Ahemdabad, attack on 15 workers with 10 seriously injured and 17 arrested on the 7th, among others. Both responses illustrate the callousness and partisan character of a government which instead of addressing the plight of the migrants and the crisis generated by aggressive parochial and caste interests is busy saving its own skin. Accusing the Congress’s Alpesh Thakor and the Kshatriya Thakor Sena of inciting Thakors against the migrants, the BJP too is ratcheting up the ‘Gujarat for Gujaratis’ sentiment with Vijay Rupani reiterating the need to pass a law to reserve 80% of jobs for Gujaratis, which will be binding on all companies setting up operations in Gujarat.
The insider-outsider binary and targeting of immigrants is not confined to Gujarat. Maharashtra, Assam, Tripura, to name just three, have all witnessed similar othering, fanning of hatred and attacks on immigrants. The present attacks and exodus in Gujarat is only part of larger patterns of communal, casteist and parochial identities and conflicts, being tapped partly for electoral gains. That the freedom to reside and work in any part of India is a constitutional right of every citizen is conveniently forgotten in the process.
Such violations of fundamental rights to life and livelihood with active complicity of governments at the state and center, is a betrayal of the state’s responsibility to guarantee these rights. If Gujarat is the model for the ideal state, the worst awaits Indian democracy and people.
- Safety and rehabilitation of the displaced migrant workers in either Gujarat or their home states.
- Compensation to the oustees.
- Criminal action against Kshatriya Thakor Sena and all those fomenting hate against migrants.
- Action against officials guilty of dereliction of duty.
- Immediate stop to policies and bills for reserving jobs along regional lines
- Increasing employment opportunities for all, in Gujarat and elsewhere.
Shahana Bhattacharya, Sharmila Purkayastha