With rumour-mongers and a section of Bihar politicians triggering panic among Hindi-speaking labourers claiming they were being targeted in Tamil Nadu, the State government and industrialists on March 3, 2023 stepped in to assure the labourers of their safety.
Acknowledging that the workers from north India were integral to the development of infrastructure in Tamil Nadu, Labour Welfare Minister C.V. Ganesan said workers from all States were working “peacefully and efficiently without any threat whatsoever”. The district administrations in Coimbatore and Tiruppur, where a large number of migrant workers were employed, issued appeals in Hindi urging the workers not to panic. Collectors and industrial associations also set up helplines for workers to reach out.
A section of industrialists said some of the workers were taken in by the rumours and wanted to leave for their native place.
The Labour Minister, in a statement, accused miscreants of spreading rumours on social media with an “ulterior motive” and said labourers were aware there was no truth in such claims.
“Appropriate action is being taken against persons who attempt to spread rumours in Tamil Nadu, which is known for social and industrial peace,” he said.
Also read | Tiruppur safe for migrant workers, action will be taken against those spreading rumours: Collector
Acknowledging the role played by labourers from northern States in major and minor industries in Tamil Nadu over the years, Mr. Ganesan underlined their role in the construction of bridges and in the Chennai Metro Rail project and said employers had ensured the availability of all amenities to them.
“The Department is ensuring that various labour laws are being followed,” he said adding the people of Tamil Nadu were known for hospitality, and the proactive government in the State had always acknowledged the contributions of labourers from northern States. Thus, all sections of the people were living together peacefully.
The problem reportedly started a week ago and some worried workers complained to their owners that they were getting messages about threats to their safety.
Prakash (name changed) from Bihar, employed at a paper unit near Pollachi, showed his company owner a couple of messages he received on the phone and said the workers were scared and wanted to go back home.
“With such false messages being shared, the migrant workers are getting scared. The State government should take strict action against those sharing such messages,” said T. Rajkumar, chairman of Confederation of Indian Textile Industry.
The textile industry in the State employs nearly 10 lakh migrant workers. If the workers panic and leave, it will hit the industry, said Ravi Sam, chairman of Southern India Mills’ Association. Almost 20 % of workers in the garment units in Tiruppur are from northern States.
Coimbatore Tiny and Small Foundry Owners Association president A. Sivashanmuga Kumar said on Friday, “Even today, workers at a couple of foundries showed such fake messages and said they want to leave.” The Coimbatore foundries employ nearly two lakh migrant workers.
Industry association heads A. Sakthivel and Mr. Ravi Sam assured industry and government protection to the workers. Coimbatore Collector Kranthi Kumar Pati urged workers to call toll free number 1077 or 0422-2300970, 9498181213/12, 8190000100, 7708100100 or 9443808277 if they faced any threat or grievance at their workplaces.
However, not all workers are leaving because they are scared. “This time of the year we take a month-long break coinciding with Holi celebration to go to our States,” Som (28), a foundry worker bound for Kolkata said. There was no issue, he said, when asked if there was any problem from local workers.
He was among a group of migrant workers waiting at the Coimbatore Railway Station on Friday night. Kamalkumar, a construction worker from Bihar, told an inquiring police team that the atmosphere at his workplace was quite cordial, and local co-workers were friendly.
At Kakkalur Industrial Estate near Chennai, a section of the workers began leaving for their hometown. Many did not turn up for work on Friday. The estate has over 25,000 migrant workers. K. Baskaran, secretary of the Kakkalur Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association (KIEMA), said, “Many workers have left citing calls from their hometown asking them to come back immediately. Migrant workers have played a crucial role in our industry and we have always taken care of them like family. This fake video has created inconvenience to our business.”
Meanwhile Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Prasad Yadav responding to BJP legislators in the Assembly, read out the message of Tamil Nadu Director-General Police (DGP) C. Sylendra Babu stressing no Bihar labourers were attacked.
“The BJP leaders are masters in creating hatred among the States. On one hand they shout Bharat Mata Ki Jai and on the other hand they create hatred among States as if Tamil Nadu is not a part of India. If there would be any such incident, the State government will surely take action and our Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has already given the instruction to the Chief Secretary and DGP of Bihar to speak to officials of Tamil Nadu. What is the point of creating ruckus in the Assembly then? Why is the Leader of the Opposition so impatient?” Mr. Yadav said in the House.
Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai said migrant workers are safe and secure in Tamil Nadu and there is a deliberate attempt to malign the State’s reputation through false news. Both the Tamil Nadu Police and the State government were committed to protecting migrant workers, he said. “I say this beyond party affiliations because I have faith in the people of the State,” he said, adding he received a call from the BJP chief of Bihar, who wanted to know if there were attacks against the migrants. “I assured him that there was no truth to those videos and the migrant workers were very safe in the State.”
(With inputs from Bihar Bureau)