Ernakulam Arrests Stoke Fear Among Migrants, Their Bosses In Kerala
The arrest of three migrant workers in Ernakulam by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for alleged terror links has left employers and other migrants panicked.
“We are worried. I have two migrant workers from Assam. They are good workers. I don’t mistrust them. But if NIA has arrested three migrant workers from Ernakulam for their alleged terror links, then we are afraid,” Francis TJ, a food unit employer in Perumbavoor, told The Lede.
On Saturday, the NIA claimed to have foiled plans for terror strikes in various parts of the country with the arrest of nine alleged Al Qaeda operatives, including three from Kerala, reportedly acting at the behest of handlers from Pakistan.
The agency said in a statement that it had learnt about an inter-state module of Al-Qaeda operatives at various locations in India including West-Bengal and Kerala.
“The group was planning to undertake terrorist attacks at vital installations in India to kill innocent people and strike terror in their minds,” the agency had added in the statement.
Francis has collected the identity papers of his two workers and kept it ready for when the police would ask for it.
“Nobody has asked me to collect their papers. But I don’t want any trouble. So, I have done it voluntarily,” Francis said.
Meanwhile, talking to The Lede, Benoy Peter, Executive Director of Centre for Migration and Inclusive for Development (CMID), said that he is getting calls from employers asking about where they should submit their workers’ identity documents.
“I have told them not to do it voluntarily, till someone asks for it,” Benoy said.
According to Benoy, out of the 35 lakh internal migrants in Kerala, only around five lakh have labour identity cards provided by Kerala.
“The rest will have their Aadhar cards and other identity cards. Interestingly, it is the employers who don’t want their workers to take state-provided labour identity cards because without that they can do away with all mandatory welfare measures,” Benoy said.
Commenting on the arrest of migrant workers, he said that “the security agencies may have intel inputs. They may be right. But the arrest has panicked the employers and workers too.”
“Already, Kerala sees these workers as “others”. I am afraid that this arrest would make the othering more,” Benoy said, adding that there will be rogue elements in all communities and with one or two rotten apples, we cannot make a generalised statement that the basket is full of bad apples.
Migrants from 194 districts from across 25 Indian states/Union Territories were found working in Kerala during 2016-2017.
More than four-fifths of these districts belong to eight Indian states. Nearly 60% of the source districts belong to east and northeast India.
Terrorists arrested from Ernakulam are Murshid Hasan, Iyakub Biswas, and Mosaraf Hossen. They were picked from Mudikkal near Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district where they had been staying among migrant workers.
According to the NIA, as per the preliminary investigation, these individuals were radicalised by Pakistan-based Al-Qaeda terrorists on social media and were motivated to undertake attacks at multiple places including New Delhi.
An NIA official said that although Murshid Hassan, who was arrested from Pathalam near Eloor in Ernakulam, was the one who coordinated the group’s activities in Ernakulam, his laptop, which was seized by the NIA, was used by someone else.
“His laptop and smartphone were controlled and used remotely using a system-sharing application,” the NIA official said adding that they suspect that the workers are originally from Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, Chandhan P, a migrant worker in Thiruvananthapuram, told The Lede that he and his friends are scared following the arrests in Ernakulam.
“See, we are seen as “others” always in Kerala. We come here because of better wages. But when something wrong happens, it is very easy to point fingers at us and get us arrested. And if it is NIA police and terror charges, who will come to save us. We will be made bakra,” Chandhan who is from West Bengal said. Bakra, in colloquial Hindi, means scapegoat.
Chandhan has been working as a construction worker in Thiruvananthapuram for the last six years and stays in shared accommodation on the outskirts of the city. “There is fear among us,” Chandhan added.
Robert S, an employer in Thiruvananthapuram, told The Lede that he will be more cautious while hiring migrant workers.
“I hire workers on a weekly basis. The people I hire are footloose workers. Most of them are floating ones. It seems that, now on, I have to be more cautious while hiring them,” he added.
Meanwhile, Benoy said that even in Kerala, akin to most of the major migrant destinations in the country, migrant workers experienced discrimination, harassment, and exploitation, albeit, at lower levels.
“Although the Kerala government has taken proactive measures for the welfare of migrants, they are yet to be pragmatic and firmly rooted in grassroots realities,” he said, adding that Kerala requires migrant labourers more than the workers require Kerala.