Migrant workers’ stir turns violent
Stranded migrant workers turned violent in Surat on Friday night, allegedly torching vegetable carts and damaging vehicles while demanding the payment of wages and permission to return home, according to government officials and the city police on Saturday.
At least 81 people, mostly migrant workers from Orissa, were arrested by the Surat city police on charges of rioting and violating the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. This is second such incident in Surat since the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 25 to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
On March 30, over 90 migrant labourers were arrested in Surat for allegedly attacking police personnel while protesting against being barred from returning to their villages.
According to police officers, at least 100 people, all migrant workers, came out on Friday night on the streets of Surat’s Laskana area, where they torched at least five vegetable carts and damaged three vehicles.
“At least five hand carts were torched and stones were pelted on locals by the workers who came out on streets fearing that the lockdown would be extended. As soon as police came to know about the incident, additional police force was sent to spot and situation was brought under control by 8.15pm. Also, 35 labourers were detained,” said RB Brahmabhatt, Surat’s commissioner of police (CP).
He said no one sustained injuries and, after the incident, more than 400 policemen were deployed in Laskana and adjacent localities, Diamond Nagar and Vipul Nagar, where a large number of migrant labourers live.
“After the situation was brought under control, around 45 more people were detained, and a total of 81 people were arrested. They were booked under section 148 (rioting), and 270 (whoever is likely to spread infection) of Indian Penal Code and for violation of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897,” Brahmabhatt added.
Bansidhar Lenaka, general secretary of Jagganathpuri Charitable Trust, which looks into the issues of migrant workers in the industrial city, said that the incident was unfortunate and showed the growing anxiety among stranded labourers due to the lockdown.
“There are around 25,000 people, just form Orissa, who are working in embroidery units and textile factories. Each person earns around between Rs 8,000 to Rs 12,000 and since the lockdown, half of the workers have not got their salaries and others have got only 50% or lesser amount,” Lenaka said.
He said that after 15 days of the lockdown, there is almost no money left with workers, who are struggling to meet their basic expenses. Many workers are on the verge of being thrown out of the homes as they have not paid rent for the past one month and also need money to send to their families back home, he added.
The Surat factories association held a meeting with district authorities apprising them about the ground situation. “We got nothing other than assurances,” Lenaka said, adding that the administration should understand the plight of the workers, who are desperate for money.
Surat district collector Dhaval Patel said food was being provided to workers free of cost in six to seven shelters and five NGOs were distributing food to more than 5,000 people, twice a day.
“The issue is more psychological one.Ninety percent of the migrant workers who took to the streets are from Ganjam district of Orissa. They had booked buses in the last few days to go back home. They are afraid that if the lockdown is extended they won’t be able to reach home,” said Patel.
(With inputs from HTCs and agencies)