Migrant workers in Kerala struggle as inflation rises

There’s little support mechanism for the migrant workers to fall back on being away from their community and homes

Published - May 13, 2022 04:55 pm IST - KOCHI:

Migrant labourers prepare their dinner in their room. File.

Migrant labourers prepare their dinner in their room. File. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For the migrant community, the soaring prices have dealt multiple blows.

While the resultant slowdown in the construction and the plywood industries that largely employ them put their livelihood increasingly in peril, there is little support mechanism to fall back on being away from their community and homes.

“Being migrants, we won’t even get a little credit when in distress. We are invariably in rented facilities and those with families have the educational expenses of their children to meet now as the schools are set to reopen. Bachelors may be better off in comparison but for both there is little scope for saving money to send back home,” said Rajender Naik, a plywood company worker who is originally from Odisha and is now settled down in Perumbavur with his family.

A vegetable famer on leased land in Nedumbasserry, Milan Sheikh from Murshidabad in West Bengal is facing a bitter sweet situation. “For the last two years, I had to sell the products that cost me ₹10 per kg for as less as ₹4 with the pandemic taking a toll on the market hit by the prolonged periods of lockdown. Now when the prices have eventually rose so as the input costs cancelling out any benefit,” he rued.

Migrant labourers at a construction site in Kochi.

Migrant labourers at a construction site in Kochi. | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Supriya Debnath from Kendrapara in Odisha has been dabbling in multiple jobs but is still faced with expenses consistently exceeding income. “Prices of essential commodities have almost doubled even as our income remains static. When I eventually managed a ration card after running around for months it turned out to be for the Above Poverty Level category bringing little more than 7kg rice a month that is way too little for our family of five. But many migrant families do not even have that little relief,” she said.

Karunakar Satatathy, a migrant worker from Odisha, keeps changing his food menu frequently these days depending on the prices of commodities. When, for instance, the price of tomatoes rockets, he simply cuts it off the menu and replace it with something else.

“My two children are living with my deceased wife’s family in Kollam. I could hardly save enough to send them money or even visit them frequent enough,” lamented Karunakar who works in a plywood factory in Perumbavur.

Rosad Ahmad, a migrant from Assam who works in a vegetable shop in Vazhakkulam faces this peculiar dilemma where the very products he handles every day have become increasingly unaffordable to him. Life, he says, has been reduced to a struggle to make both ends meet.

Basheer K.K., treasurer of the Maanav Migrant Welfare Foundation, feels that migrants are perhaps coping better than the local residents as they haven’t yet embraced the innate consumerism of Malayalis. “But their livelihood may be affected as industries slowdown. For instance, if the construction industry is affected they may loss their jobs leaving them with little option but to return home,” he said.

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