Not far from a gateway marking the entrance to this village in Ahmedabad district, a stronghold of the Thakor community, a group of 25 young migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh have found refuge in a farm house since Sunday evening.
On the gateway, which is an arch made of stone, a banner has been put up by the Kshatriya Thakor Samaj demanding capital punishment for the migrant worker from Bihar accused of allegedly raping a 14-month-old girl in Sabarkantha on September 28.
But the two-storey farm house — surrounded by fields, enclosed by boundary walls and secured by an iron gate — is not easily visible from the main road. This is one of the “secret” camps set up in the district by Uttar Bhartiya Vikas Parishad, a social welfare trust, to shelter migrant workers from UP, MP and Bihar, following the widespread attacks against them in Gujarat since the alleged rape.
“Temporary arrangements have been made for their stay till the situation is under control. We don’t want to disclose these locations. A careful recce was conducted before shortlisting these areas,” says Shyam Singh Thakur, who heads the Parishad.
By Monday, the men from UP, in the age group of 18-28, had settled down on the terrace of the farm house. “This is the safest place for them. This village is part of the Vatva assembly constituency of Gujarat’s MoS for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja, so there will be no breach in law and order. Also, the public here is educated and there have been regular meetings between residents, police and our organisation members,” says Deepak Dubey, a Parishad member.
Formed in 2016, the Parishad is based in Ahmedabad, and run by trustees from UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, MP and Haryana. It has 32,000 members with various political affiliations, including the BJP, Congress and SP, according to Thakur.
The workers, who have taken shelter in the farm house, were employed at a snacks manufacturing unit in Dehgam, Gandhinagar. They split into groups of twos and fours on Saturday evening after a mob entered their factory and attacked some of them, warning them to leave Gujarat.
“We were singled out because we were from UP. As others started leaving from the factories nearby, we left for the Ahmedabad railway station on Saturday evening,” says Sumit Gautam, 18, who hails from Kanpur district and was working at the unit over the last nine months for a monthly salary of Rs 6,000.
“But despite travelling in a group of not more than four in a private jeep, we were followed and taunted by men on bikes. We were really scared. When we reached Narol, someone gave us the helpline number of the Parishad and asked us to contact them. That is how all of us reached here,” says Salman Khan, another member of the group.
By now, the men have finished their lunch of puri-bhaji, and started checking their mobile phones for updates on the situation.
“We don’t understand why innocent migrants are being targetted. The one who has committed the crime should be given the harshest punishment but not innocent people. If some Gujarati commits a crime, will they throw him out, too?” says Bhola Prajapati, 20, from Auraiya in UP, who got married just six months ago.
“We have been receiving panic calls from our family members. They are asking us to return as soon as possible,” says Pintoo Prajapati, the oldest in the group at 28, who hails from Kanpur district. Pintoo says he has been working at the unit the longest, “for six years”, leaving his aged parents, wife and daughter in his village for a monthly salary of Rs 15,000.
“We were asked by the factory owner to leave till things get normal. Many have left, many are leaving. The factories are locked,” says Pintoo.
Pawansinh Rajput, a Parishad volunteer, says a guard has been posted at the farm house. “The migrant workers have been arriving in groups from industrial areas in districts around Ahmedabad,” he says.
“Another group of around 50 will be reaching from the Changodar industrial area. A few women reached on Sunday, and we made arrangements for them at the homes of friends and relatives in areas of Ahmedabad that have not witnessed any tension so far,” he says.
The workers, meanwhile, spread out on mattresses laid out in the verandah for an afternoon nap. But their bags are packed, ready for departure.