Bageshree S. and M.V. Chandrashekar

Memories of the 1991 violence still haunt unorganised sector workers

Bageshree S.

and M.V. Chandrashekar

Bangalore: On a normal day it is hard to pick one's way through the Old Tharagupet area, which is a busy centre for wholesale trade in oil, grains, vegetables and other commodities. But the pace of work is now sluggish here and in areas around it, including New Tharagupet, City Market, Kalasipalyam Market, Sultanpet and Chickpet. Loaded lorries remain parked, with no workers to unload the goods. Pushcart vendors, old-paper sellers and roadside clothes sellers are also fewer in number.

This is because a significant number of Tamil daily wage workers from Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Thiruvannamalai and Hosur who work here have left Bangalore fearing violence after the announcement of the final order by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.

Unlike what happened following the 1991 Cauvery interim order, Tamils have not been targeted after the verdict this time. In fact, there have been repeated assurances from the police and Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy that Tamils will be given adequate protection. But memories of the 1991 violence and fears about a recurrence still haunt unorganised sector workers who are the primary targets in any outbreak of violence.

Construction sector hit

This fear has seriously hit the construction industry too, where a large number of Tamils are employed. Mathew Mammen, executive director of Sobha Developers, says that the presence of Tamil workers has come down by 30 to 40 per cent in construction sites in Bangalore. Apart from those who do masonry work, some engineers and supervisors too have gone back to Tamil Nadu on leave, he says. Work on some construction sites has come to a standstill. "There has been no violence, but there is a lot of uncertainty. This is definitely hitting the industry hard," says Mr. Mammen.

Sheshadri C.S. of Mane Vinyas says he has had to bring work to a halt in half of the ongoing projects. "I fear more people will leave on Sunday," he adds.

In fact, Muthu from Thiruvannamalai, a headload worker at City Market, told The Hindu that he plans to leave for his hometown on Sunday and return "only after the situation is completely normal."

N.P. Swamy, president of the Karnataka State Construction Workers Central Union, says that more than resident Tamil labourers who have settled down and have their families here, it is the migrant labourers brought in by contractors for road laying, masonry and other work who are returning to Tamil Nadu. "But it is not comparable to the exodus of 1991," he adds.

Community meetings

His organisation has been holding community meetings in slum areas across Bangalore to give confidence to workers that they will not be harmed. "We should also note that land is today the most precious commodity, and the land mafia would want to drive people out of their homes to grab these those pieces of land," he says.