Fear of lockdown: Migrant workers in TN queue up at railway stations to return home

Fear of lockdown: Migrant workers in TN queue up at railway stations to return home
In what looks like a repeat of the 2020 migrant exodus, migrant labourers working in Tamil Nadu started making a beeline for railway stations across the state from Monday to return home due to the fear of coronavirus spread, lockdown and lack of jobs. As the state crossed 10,000 daily cases and imposed a night curfew, the migrant labourers are also worried about another lockdown leaving them without work and food. Tamil Nadu is unofficially estimated to have more than 20 lakh migrant workers spread across various industries in the state, including the garment capital Tiruppur and the industrial capital Coimbatore. Bejoy Sahoo, a migrant worker from Kalahandi in Odisha, speaking to IANS said, “We work as labourers in a Tiruppur garment unit, we fear an imminent lockdown. I want to somehow get back home as we’re scared that we won’t get food or accommodation once the lockdown is implemented.” While the Tiruppur district administration conducted several awareness programmes among the migrant workers in association with garment manufacturers and other trade bodies, the workers are not very convinced. SK Murdassar, an Aari worker from Bardhwan in West Bengal who is employed in a garment factory at Tiruppur, told IANS, “Of course our factory owner and other concerned people, including Tiruppur government officials, have assured us that there is nothing to fear and that the possibility of a lockdown is less, but we’re not convinced. We want to go back to our hometown. Even if it’s poverty, we want to be with our family in West Bengal.” State health authorities say they are trying to make all efforts to prevent the exodus of migrant workers as this would send a wrong message to the outside world. Sivakasi firecracker units too employ several migrant workers and if these workers leave for their hometowns, the units will have to be shut down. Muruganandam, the owner of a medium firecracker unit in Sivakasi, speaking to IANS said, “We have thousands of migrant workers spread across our units. These people are mostly from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, and we’re worried as they are trying to go back to their hometowns. We’ve already promised them all the facilities in case the government takes extreme measures like lockdowns, but we’re not able to convince them.” The migrant workers are also worried as they were treated badly during the 2020 lockdown and had to make their own efforts to get back to their hometowns. Ullas Kumar, a migrant worker from Bihar, told IANS, “I’ve already booked my ticket to go back to Patna. I know that once the lockdown comes, this will not be the face of the administration. Last year, the Tamil Nadu police treated us like dogs. I have a family to cater to and I’m going to Patna.” With COVID-19 cases mounting and the government announcing several restrictions, the migrant workers feel that this is a prelude to a lockdown which would end up causing them huge misery.

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