Coffee estate workers from northeast are often labelled ‘illegal immigrants’

A file photo of workers from Assam with their families at a coffee estate near Arehalli in Belur taluk.

A file photo of workers from Assam with their families at a coffee estate near Arehalli in Belur taluk.  

A majority of them carry voter ID cards in their pockets to ‘prove’ their nationality

Karnataka government’s announcement that it is “considering” the National Register for Citizen (NRC) in the State has made a section of labourers as well as estate owners in coffee growing areas anxious.

Thousands of people from north-eastern States work as plantation workers here and are often labelled “illegal immigrants”. These are mostly people from Assam, Mizoram, West Bengal, and Odisha. A majority of these workers carry voter identity cards in their pockets to “prove” their nationality.

According to a rough estimation of Karnataka Growers Federation , an umbrella organisation of coffee growers in Hassan, Chikkamagaluru, and Kodagu, more than 2 lakh people from north-eastern States work in the estates in the three districts. They travel to their home State during elections and important festivals. For the past two years, several workers from Assam visited their home towns to ensure their names figured in the NRC. Many people whose names did not figure in the NRC, left the job here to file their objections.

People from Assam started moving to estates here about eight years ago. They first came to estates in Kodagu and slowly moved to the neighbouring districts. Now, even small growers — those with five to 10 acres of estate — have a small group of employees from Assam. “We verify their antecedents and check their documents before hiring them. A majority of them have electors photo identity card, PAN card, and other identity cards,” said U.M. Thirthamallesh, a coffee planter and president of the federation. He also has 15 people from Assam in his estate.

Corporate companies, which own large estates, have hired hundreds of employees from these States as workers. The children of these workers go to schools at Arehalli in Belur taluk. The employers have given them houses in the estates. And, their salary is less than that of the local workers as they are not skilled labourers.

The local police repeatedly issue public statements appealing to the growers to keep a record of all their workers and submit a copy of their identity cards to the local police station. Many have submitted the copies to the local police. However, the police have no consolidated figure on the number of people from north-eastern States working in these districts.

A senior police officer said, “The NRC is a policy issue. I cannot comment on this as of now. Anyhow, it will be helpful to identify illegal migrants, if any.”

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 1:12:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/coffee-estate-workers-from-northeast-are-often-labelled-illegal-immigrants/article29599224.ece

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