SSRC, India Conducted Webinar on ‘COVID-19 and the Handling of Migrants: Kerala Experiences’
GUWAHATI: A national level webinar was organised by Social Science Research Community (SSRC), India on 5 July 2020 on the topic ‘COVID 19 and handling of the migrants: Kerala Experiences’.
Assam’s Pranabjyoti Nath, Kerala cadre IAS officer who is now the Labour Commissioner of the Kerala Government was the invited speaker.
Nath comprehensively dealt with the migration dynamics in Kerala which draws the highest number of inter-state migrants. Speaking at the webinar he said that for Kerala migrant workers are the partners of the development processes and therefore they are considered as guests to the state.
Among land, labour and capital labour is the core in the development process. In Kerala a non-negotiable consensus has emerged regarding the role of the guest workers which has been possible due to the responsive eco system that comprises the state, political parties and the greater civil society.
Nath, who assumed the charge as the Labour Commissioner of Kerala just before the outbreak of the COVID 19, handled 4.30 lakh guest workers in the state and took care of their food, shelter and transportation in convergence with all other related departments.
In the post COVID 19 period Kerala set up three types of camps – relief camp; employer-contractor run camp; scattered camp (wherever they were, their homes etc.) He pointed out that ‘the idea of camp was conceptual, rather than in physical terms.’
There was assistance provided in terms of health requirements, food and civil society played an active role in arrangements of food. Even food preferences of people from different states were taken into account and the preferred food was provided to them. The speaker provided minute details of the migrants from different states including from Assam.
He further pointed out that the dismantling of the plywood industry in Assam acted as one of the important driving forces of labour migration from Assam to Kerala.
The webinar was chaired by Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty, former Head of the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi and presently distinguished professor at the Council for Social Development, New Delhi who pointed out that migrant labour issue in the country is as serious in the country as the pandemic itself. The reality is that the incumbent regimes do not have a strategy to meet the needs of the poor and the labourers.
While arguing that Kerala model has been a central focus in the current discourse and debates, the pertinent question that needs to be asked is whether the migrants sending states too will develop an ecosystem ensuring their dignified livelihoods in their own states for the future generations.
Participating as a discussant Prof. Deppak Mishra, Centre for Regional Studies, JNU asserted that we should avoid overemphasis on the exceptionalism of Kerala. He pointed out that Kerala as a federal state is much ahead of other states, in terms of human development and social security.
But it also shares the constraints that the other Indian states share. But, in spite of these constraints it could deal with the migrant issue. While emphasizing on universal labour rights he pointed out that Kerala has been the testimony to the fact that within the neo-liberal framework the migrants may have a minimum of dignity if there is both awareness and commitment on the part of the administrator about the ground reality along with a proper database.
Another discussant Prof. Bidyut Mohanty from the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi pointed out that the success of the Kerala government in dealing with the migrant labourers lies in the systematic data-matrix; decentralisation and co-ordination/convergence of all departments.
Raising the gender concerns, she, however, asserted that the gender and other societal differentiations within the migrant labourers and the corresponding predicaments need to be taken care of.
Reflecting on the current state of affairs related to the labour and migrant issues in the country, Dr. Dhananjay Rai from the Central University of Gujarat asserted that Inequality cannot be interpreted as a communal issue. Labour identity needs to draw concerns and attention without disregard to other micro identities. He also expressed concerns over the forced floating populations under the neo-liberal regime.
Speaking in the webinar Prof. Ujjwal Kumar Singh of Delhi University emphasized on the need of nurturing the importance of the local folk culture of the migrant communities.
The webinar began with a welcome note from Prof. Akhil Ranjan Dutta, President, SSRC, India, and was moderated by Dr. Sreeparna Bhattacharjee (Assam University), Dr. Monalisha Roy Choudhury (Bikali College) and Dr. Sahana Bhattacharjee (Gauhati University). The webinar was attended by more than 100 participants.