Protests, Clashes, and No Train for Home: Nothing Has Changed for Surat’s Migrants


Protests, Clashes, and No Train for Home: Nothing Has Changed for Surat’s Migrants

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Hundreds and thousands of migrants stranded across the country for more than a month are hoping to return home, as the government has promised that it would organise special trains for them. But not much has changed for labourers stranded in Gujarat’s Surat.

With no word from officials on what was in store for them, hundreds of restless migrant workers on Monday came out on the streets of Surat’s Vareli village demanding that they be allowed to return to their native place. However, within minutes the confrontation turned violent as the mob clashed with the police. The labourers allegedly pelted stones at the police, who then fired 10 teargas shells at the mob. The agitated crowd was also lathi-charged in order to bring the situation under control. In the end, the police detained 70 people.

Similar scenes unfolded in Palanpur area of Surat city, where a mob of 500 took to the street. They complained that their landlords were demanding rent and with no jobs, they were finding it impossible to make ends meet. “During interaction, we got the sense that they just wanted to go back to their homes. We have told them we will keep their issue in mind and try to work on it,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Prashant Sumbe told The Indian Express.

The labourers are running out of options to get the attention of authorities. Around 50 migrant labourers got their heads tonsured in Surat’s Pandesara locality on Monday after being unable to leave for their villages in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, according to a PTI report. They claimed that two days ago, they were given permission to leave in buses but later were asked to go back.

One of them claimed that the fare that paid for the cancelled bus ride was not returned to them. Others said they sold their watches, mobiles phones, as it seemed like their only chance to get home.

With no job security and money to sustain their existence, workers are struggling to survive. Monday’s protest is the forth such incident of desperate workers protesting within the span of nearly 30 days. Ever since the lockdown was announced back in March, Surat, known as a hub of migrant labourers, has been witnessing back-to-back incidents of violent clashes between the migrants and authorities, their demands to be sent back to their states put on uncertain hold.

Most of these workers hail from the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and Madhya Pradesh.

In the light of unrest amongst labourers, many state governments have claimed to have taken the responsibility to look after the migrant workers in their state and provide them with basic necessities. But the ground reality reeks of mismanagement.

With no job, no financial aid how are these workers to make it back to their homes? The situation reads nothing short of a disaster.

In Gujarat, 20 lakh migrant workers have registered themselves to return home. And that itself seems like a mammoth task.