THE FIRST day of the third phase of the national lockdown saw migrant workers in Gujarat and Kerala come out on the streets Monday, demanding that they be sent back home and protesting against landlords demanding rents.
In Gujarat, hundreds of migrants gathered to protest at two locations in Surat, and in Ahmedabad. In Surat’s Vareli village, the workers clashed with police, leaving two policemen injured and several vehicles damaged.
In Kerala, a group of at least 200 workers from West Bengal staged a protest on the Kozhikode-Mangalore highway after being “misled by false information” that train tickets were being distributed, police said.
Both Gujarat and Kerala had started sending migrants, mostly from UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, back home on special trains last week. Gujarat has emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot with over 5,500 cases so far. Kerala, on the other hand, is way down the chart with 500 cases.
The start of the second phase of the lockdown last month had witnessed similar protests in Surat, and also in Maharashtra where nearly 2,000 people gathered outside the Bandra West railway station in Mumbai.
In Vareli, a senior officer said migrants from UP and Bihar, working in the textile dyeing and printing units of Kadodara GIDC and powerloom units, pelted stones at a group of five policemen who tried to disperse them. Police resorted to a lathicharge and used tear gas shells to disperse the mob. At least 100 persons have been detained, the officer said.
“There is no work here, and we are struggling to get food. Now, houseowners are demanding rent. We came to know that train and bus services have been started from Surat to Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and UP. We want to return and work in the fields till the situation becomes normal,” said Dhaniram Dubey, from Banda in UP, who was working in a dyeing and printing mill in Kadodara GIDC.
DySP Bhargav Pandya said the situation has been brought under control. “We tried to pacify them and tried to get their local leaders to persuade them to return to their accommodation. But the mob pelted stones at police. The condition of the injured policemen is stable,” he said.
Another group of around 500 migrant workers protested against their landlords demanding rent in the Palanpur area of Surat city. Reinforcements were sent to pacify the mob, said DCP Prashant Sumbe. “They wanted to go back. We assured them that complaints will be registered against houseowners who demand rent at this time,” Sumbe said. At least 20 were detained and FIRs registered against 100 others.
In Ahmedabad, over 150 migrant workers protested outside a local revenue office near Lal Darwaza, claiming that they were unable to register on a government portal for the special trains.
“We went to the Mamlatdar office to ask for hard copies of the form but we were not allowed inside. We have to go home, there is no money left,” said Mohammad Saddam (25), who hails from Kolkata and was working in a plastic factory in Ahmedabad.
In Kozhikode’s Koyilandi, police said they had to resort to a “mild lathicharge” to disperse the protesting workers. Station House Officer K Unnikrishnan said the workers from Uttar Dinajpur district had been camping at Moodadi village.
“Lists of migrant workers wanting to return are being prepared by revenue authorities. But we haven’t officially given them any information about trains. We chased them away when they tried to pelt stones from a railway track nearby,’’ he said.
Moodadi panchayat president Sheeja Patteri said the village has 870 migrants, including 500 from West Bengal. “We have been supplying them with food kits. Someone misguided them. Even during the lockdown, many of them are getting work at construction sites,’’ she said.