‘Labour migration trade touches Rs. 70 cr. to Rs. 80 cr. in western Odisha’

Though the gruesome chopping off of the palms of two migrant labourers has badly shaken the residents of Khariar,the poverty-stricken region of Odisha, it has not called a halt to others embarking on the journey into the dark alleys of bondage, humiliation and even death.

Everybody appears dumbstruck after hearing the horrible incident, but they feel the need was to follow the dictats of the labour contractors which would ensure two square meals a day for their families.

Hordes of migrant workers are now busy bundling up their bare necessities and waiting for the signal of labour contractors to start their journeys to brick-kilns of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.

Jasoda Patel, a 65-year-old resident of Sunarisikwan village under this remote block, and a regular migrant worker till this year, explained as to why administration could not prevent people from being transported.

“We have already taken the loan advances from labour agents two months ago. My family members have already spent a big share of the loan while a small amount is left with us. At this moment, we have no other option than following the dictats of the sardar (labour contractor),” said Ms. Patel

Six of her family members, including her son and daughter-in-law, are under contract to work in a brick-kiln in Andhra Pradesh. Her fellow villager, Raidhar Sunani, said 70 per cent of families in the village were under obligation to work in brick manufacturing units.

Kirikita, a village not far away from Sunarisikwan, has a similar story. Some families have already left while others are preparing to board trains from undisclosed locations.

Labour migration from this poverty stricken region has become a part of life for many years now. For poor families, although migration sometimes proves to be threat to their life, it hands them the crucial cash to spend at festivals and other social events.

For labour contractors, the migration makes their cash registers ring.

“Conservatively, the worth of labour migration trade touches Rs 70 to 80 crore in western Odisha. The trade flourishes right under the nose of administration as government officials who are supposed to stop distress migration, are bribed at different stages,” said Umi Daniel, head of Migration Information and Resource Centre (MiRC), Aide et Action South Asia and a researcher on migration.

Mr. Daniel said, “slowly and steadily, the migration from western Odisha is turning into a neo-bondage system, wherein labour contractors dispatch thousands of labourers by luring them into debt trap. The work condition of labourers will deteriorate further as in neoliberal economy, money is being pumped into cities and labourers are transported from rural heartlands.”