According to the collective, there are 810 brick kilns in the state, and most of the owners have disowned the workers.

Hyderabad Image for representation/PTI
news Coronavirus Friday, June 12, 2020 - 13:38

A collective of activists in Telangana have banded together in recent weeks to help stranded migrant workers in the state. Hundreds of activists from different civil rights groups and women’s organisations from several districts formed the ‘Advocacy COVID lockdown collective’ to assist migrant workers, who were unable to travel back to their homes amid the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

So far, nearly 20,000 workers from brick kilns working in Medchal, Malkajgiri, Karimnagar, Warangal, Sangareddy, Ranga Reddy, Pedapally, Sircilla, Khammam, Yadadri Bhuvanagiri and Nalgonda districts, have been sent back to their homes on state-funded Shramik trains. This came after activists advocated on behalf of the migrant workers, following which the court took action and intervened in the crisis. 

S Jeevan Kumar, from Human Rights Forum, who is part of the collective, says, “Initially during the lockdown, our focus was only on feeding them. But later we realised the gravity of the problem. We realised that they were desperate to go back to their hometowns. Horrible stories emerged, and that’s when the collective was formed to coordinate with volunteers, and ensure that these migrants went back home safely.”

According to Jeevan, who is the Coordination Committee member for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there are 810 brick kilns in the state, and most of the owners of these brick kilns have disowned them, asking them to find a transport to their home on their own.  

The collective had filed petitions in the court demanding the government arrange Shramik trains to Odisha. “Nearly 20,000 brick kiln workers from Odisha have come to the state, and they were literally dumped on the national highway by the brick kiln owners, leaving them on their own after work. It was a mass exodus. That’s when I approached the court to ask the state government to arrange for the trains.”

On Wednesday, The Telangana High Court expressed its appreciation for the state government after five special Shramik trains were arranged for the migrant worker from Odisha working in brick kilns. The Advocate General also told the court that a few more Shramik trains will run on Thursday to ferry the migrant workers back to their hometown. A temporary shelter has also been arranged for the stranded.

In May, the Telangana government ran nearly 100 trains, transporting close to 1.5 lakh migrant workers to several states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. However, these services were terminated on May 30, and scores of migrant workers were neglected.  

A Suneetha, another volunteer, who has been coordinating with police, bureaucrats and activists, says, “For nearly a week, the migrants gathering outside the Secunderabad railway station were shelterless. They had to suffer the wrath of rains, heat and cold.” However, as the collective approached the court, a shelter was arranged for them on Wednesday. Nearly 300 migrant workers are housed in this shelter. 

Before the train services resumed, this collective had arranged 85 buses for the stranded migrants. 

“There are several volunteers and grassroot workers who are part of the collective and are coordinating with the Collectors, bureaucrats, police etc.” says Sunitha, appreciating the efforts of all those actively involved in the collective. 

While the activists were successful in arranging special trains to Odisha migrant workers, several continue to gather at the Secunderabad railway station without any money and food. Though activists are trying to care for the stranded workers, they are also demanding an extra ‘Shramik’ bogey for the poor. The court also took note of this and suggested the government to arrange trains to Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.  

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