Back home, migrants prepare to vote in Bihar after long
The pandemic upended the lives of tens of thousands of migrant workers, brought untold sufferings, and forced many of them to walk back to their homes. But it has also pushed people like Kumar to stay put and get back on their feet in Bihar, which means they can also vote, something that they hardly ever did.Updated: Oct 31, 2020, 17:27 IST
Suraj Kumar, 28, worked in Srinagar for 14 years before the Covid-19 pandemic left him jobless and forced him to return to Bihar this summer. He has since set up a paver block unit at Madhopur-Bairiya village in West Champaran district as he tries to pick up the pieces back home.
The pandemic upended the lives of tens of thousands of migrant workers, brought untold sufferings, and forced many of them to walk back to their homes. But it has also pushed people like Kumar to stay put and get back on their feet in Bihar, which means they can also vote, something that they hardly ever did.
“I have the privilege to [now] exercise my democratic rights,” said Kumar, who previously worked at a paver block unit in Srinagar and has since June employed 40 workers.
Kumar is not alone in the village. Nine groups of migrant workers have started textile, apparel, embroidery, woodwork units with the government’s help and employ over 90 returnees there.
Most of these returnees are excited about voting for the first time after having spent years outside Bihar. Most of them have never seen an electronic voting machine.
Sikandar Pandey, 55, a migrant worker, last voted when paper ballots were used in the noughties. “Past is past. Our expectations from the next government are that it will facilitate the reverse migration of the workforce.”
An official said they have made it a point to register tens of thousands of migrant workers as voters. “Efforts are also on to help the migrants become entrepreneurs,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.
The migrant workers are expected to play a key role in deciding the outcome of the assembly elections.
Congress lawmaker Vinay Verma said the migrant workers are aggrieved and feel cheated by the kind of treatment meted out to them during Covid-19 lockdown. “We are in constant touch with them and they are naturally with us. We will see that we make a comprehensive programme to empower them.”
Ram Niwas Sahani, who worked in Mumbai, said political parties have been seeking their support. “We will take a judicious decision. The lockdown was a bad time. Everybody faced a rough time. We are not an exception. But things have certainly changed a great deal.”
Bhartiya Janata Party leader Renu Devi said a beginning has certainly been made to make the migrant workers self-employed. “We are looking forward to encouraging their reverse migration and settlement in Bihar to provide the impetus to the economic development of our state.”