‘Bhai’ is the name they are known by here.

Life has to go on for the migrants of Perumbavoor despite being targeted off and on
news Tuesday, May 10, 2016 - 08:45

The recent rape and brutal murder of 30-year old law student Jisha has jostled the migrant population in Perumbavoor into the limelight. This was after police revealed that investigation would focus on the said category.

It was around the same time that Kailash Jyoti -a migrant labourer from Assam who was mistaken for a thief- was caught and tied up by a few locals in Kottayam. The government announced compensation of Rs.50,000 for his family.

Amidst all the media attention and massive protests over Jisha’s murder, Kailash’s death on May 4 neither shook the public conscience nor did any TV debate fight for his rights. The post-mortem report revealed that there was only ten percent of fluid in his body, indicating starvation. There were also 56 bruises which he sustained in the mob fury unleashed on him.

In Kerala’s political fabric, migrant workers are limited to a ‘two-line’ mention even in election manifestoes, were parties promise to provide them ‘improved living conditions.’ It was in 2010 that the VS Achuthananthan government had proudly announced Kerala Migrant Workers' Welfare Programme, the ‘first such initiative in the country’.

For lack of political advantage probably, no political party in the state has come forward to react to the callous manner in which passers-by stood as mute witnesses when Kailash’s life ebbed out, tied to a tree and left on the road in sweltering heat for over two hours.

Perumbavoor in Eranakulam is home to the largest number of migrant labourers –mostly from West Bengal- in Kerala. Most private buses, eateries and hospitals in and around Perumbavoor now carry name boards in Hindi besides Malayalam and English. ‘Bhai’ is the name they are known by here.

Migrant labourers at Gandhi Bazaar, Perumbavoor

The Gandhi Bazaar in Perumbavoor, also known as ‘Bhai Bazaar’ is run by migrant labourers on Sundays. From inexpensive mobile phones to beedis, cheap dresses, snacks…whatever you name, ‘Bhai Bazaar’ has it all.

You can see them move from one stall to the other in search of best deals. Their constant chatter is drowned in loud songs blaring out from the cheap stereo-sets put up for sale.

A few look confused as we try to strike a conversation. “I don’t speak the language,” says one in broken Malayalam. But that is no hindrance to stories being shared.

23-year-old Shivraj came to Perumbavoor twenty years ago as a three-year old with his parents in search of work. Shivraj who hails from Yashwantpur in Karnataka is now fluent in Malayalam. He says now that locals are familiar with their family, they face no trouble whatsoever.

It has been seven months since Noor Muhammad came to Perumbavoor. Working as a construction labourer for six days a week, this 20-year-old sells clothes at Gandhi Bazaar on Sundays. When asked about the Jisha murder only a few kilometers away, he remarks, “I don’t know about all that. I don’t bother about how people treat me here. I work hard all week and go back home to sleep at night. I have to earn a living.”

Noor Muhammad selling clothes at the bazaar

Noor who hails from Murshidabad lights up at the mention of Bengal elections: “I have cast my vote once. I wanted to vote this time around, but what to do… I have to stay here and make a living.”

Like most other migrant workers at the bazaar, he too is oblivious to what is happening around him. His eyes widens in horror when told of Kailash’s death.

“The train journey from Murshidabad takes a lot of time. Most of the time, we have no money when we land here for the very first time. All I can say is…the mob should not have attacked him. But then I have no time to think of all that. I need to work hard and make money,” says Noor.

A group of people hunch over a young migrant worker who makes hot evening snacks at the bazaar. 20-year-old Juel sits behind a kerosene stove expertly dishing out delicious snacks that buyers relish to their heart’s content.

Seven months ago, Juel hopped on to a Kerala-bound train from his hometown Murshidabad in West Bengal. He was in his first year of a BA degree course when his father fell ill and could no longer go for work.

Juel's snacks stall

“People from my neighbourhood have been working in Perumbavoor for the past few years. When I contacted them, they assured me that I would be able to find work here. So I decided to come here along with a few friends as I have to look after my father and younger sister,” he shares.

Reacting to the Jisha-murder, he replies, “I saw people protesting on the streets; that’s when someone told me that a girl has been murdered. The culprit should be brought to book, even if he is one among us.”


Also read: 'Let the police do their job', Jisha's sister ask media to stop hounding her

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