From a district collector in Modasa eating street food at a migrant vendor stall to Ahmedabad police officers hosting a garba event, where migrants and locals dance together, government officials are fanning out across five districts in Gujarat amid growing criticism against the exodus of migrants from the state after a spate of attacks over the last ten days.
Migrants in Gujarat have been targeted since a 19-year-old worker from Bihar was arrested for allegedly abducting and raping a 14-month-old girl in Sabarkantha district on September 28. And in an effort to “build confidence” on orders from the Chief Secretary, district administration officials, police officers and bureaucrats have scrambled to launch outreach programmes ranging from railway station visits to eating food at migrant-run establishments to instil confidence in the government.
The ground visits were followed by posts on social media with photos. The confidence building exercise comes at a time when the political leadership continues to blame the Congress, whose MLA Alpesh Thakor was blamed for inciting the attacks as part of the Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena, which he heads.
Aravalli district collector M Nagarajan and superintendent of police (SP) Mayur Patil chose to eat pani puri at a stall run by Rampal Kushwah (40), who hails from Madhya Pradesh, outside the busy Modasa bus station. Patil said: “It was to build confidence among the workers who have come from outside. Although the district was not affected much, this exercise was done to boost their confidence.”
Rampal, who has lived in Modasa for 20 years, told The Indian Express, “I was so happy to see them at my stall. They came without telling me. Being an outsider I was scared, but after the gesture, I am no longer afraid.” About 100 km away in Ahmedabad where several incidents of violence against migrants were reported, the Ahmedabad Police Wednesday, the first day of Navratri, hosted a garba event at Maniyasana society, Khokhra police station in sector-2, where migrants and locals danced together.
Additional Commissioner Of Police, Ahmedabad city, Ashok Yadav and colleagues also felicitated over 250 families of workers from Naroda and Odhav industrial areas. “It was an attempt to boost their morale,” he said. The event was organised by the Ahmedabad Police and Young Group of Maniyasna where one of the posters read “navli nortani raat…parprantiyo ne saath” (nine nights of navratri with non Gujaratis). Yadav said that another such event will be held soon.
Attacks on migrants, particularly factory workers, were reported in the districts of Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad and Vadodara. Speaking to district officers over video conference, Gujarat Chief Secretary J N Singh gave instructions to especially reach out to the migrant population. “We specifically gave instructions to reach out to the migrants to instil confidence in them that there is nothing to worry about and the administration is there to safeguard them. So accordingly, all the officers made efforts to reach out and I think it has been gone quite well and things are moving quite smoothly now.”
A petition filed in the Gujarat high court Thursday seeking action against those who launched the attacks and the authorities for failing to protect migrants stated that more than two lakh migrants have fled the state since the violence began. The HC has sought the Gujarat government’s response.
Ahmedabad district collector Vikrant Pandey on Tuesday was at the Ahmedabad Railway Station to meet migrants leaving Gujarat and Additional Chief Secretary (revenue) Pankaj Kumar was at the Sabarmati railway station on Wednesday.
Pandey told The Indian Express, “We had instructions to reach out to the migrants and so, we decided to go to the entry and exit points like Railway stations to assess the ground reality. And I discovered that the labourers were leaving for different personal reasons like social functions, religious functions etc… After our visit to the railway station, many collectors had also visited the railway stations under their respective jurisdiction. We also held around 110 meetings of Peace Committees in different (target) areas of the district to spread the message of safety and security.”
Over Wednesday and Thursday, Vadodara Police Commissioner Anupam Singh Ghalaut, district SP Tarun Duggal and collector Shalini Agarwal visited migrant labourers and their families in Waghodia taluka where the first hate attacks on non-Gujarati labourers were reported.
(WITH INPUTS FROM AISHWARYA MOHANTY IN VADODARA)