Kabir Ahmad (name changed), a migrant worker from Perumbavoor, had to spend a small fortune to buy a plane ticket to return to his home in the Hojai district of Assam last month following the anguished appeal of his parents to return in time to vote. Their desperation arose out of the perceived danger to the community by the Union Government’s proposed National Citizens Register (NRC) and the cost that every wasted vote can bring in the struggle to keep legislation at bay. Although not fully convinced of their anxiety, Kabir, who has been in Kerala for more than a decade and speaks Malayalam fluently, voted in the April 1 elections.
The state elections to the West Bengal and Assam assemblies appear to have assumed unprecedented importance among the large migrant communities of these two states in the wake of the NRC and its potential implications, leading to their mass exodus to the United States. country despite their return here after struggles to find jobs following the containment induced by COVID-19.
The state’s plywood, construction and hospitality industries were badly affected after their exit. “Production in the plywood industry has fallen by about 40%. Migrants from the religious minority community fear that if they don’t show up to vote, local politicians will abandon them, ”said Mujeeb Rahman, state chairman, All Kerala Plywood and Block Board Manufacturers Association.
“There is a certain fear psychosis among migrants from religious minorities in the northeastern states and West Bengal, which is reflected in the unprecedented interest in the Assembly elections. Those in the religious minority community see it as a vote against the implementation of the NRC and those in the majority community as a vote in favor, ”said Benoy Peter, executive director of the Center for Migration and Inclusive Development.
The hospitality industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers from the northeast and West Bengal, has also been affected. “Most of our large customers are facing difficulties and no permanent solution seems in sight. Our attempt to fill the void by bringing in migrants from Odisha has failed in the face of large-scale attrition, ”said TR Krishnakumar, Director of Business Development, KLR Facility Management Private Limited, which provides human resources to key players. Of the industry.
In pineapple cultivation
The pineapple sector also saw a sharp drop in the number of workers, although the price of the fruit fell to 40 yen per kg after a year of crisis. About 25,000 workers from other states work in the sector and about 20,000 are from Assam and West Bengal. Most of those workers have returned to the election, said Baby John, a pineapple farmer in Vazhakkulam. Shine Kallungal, a pineapple farmer in Muvattupuzha, said there was a severe labor shortage in the sector, which would affect farmers’ incomes.
With far-from-normal train services, migrants rely on contract cars to get home, reducing their meager savings, says George Mathew, coordinator of the Progressive Workers’ Organization.
The same level of desperation, however, is not observed among migrants from Tamil Nadu, who also go to the polls. Also, being the state’s oldest migrant community, many will now vote here, like Murugeswari, 38, who moved to Vathuruthy in Kochi from Dindigul over ten years ago.