Clash may trigger xenophobia against migrants, fear activists

Company blamed for fractured relation between locals, workers

The clash between the police and migrant workers at Kizhakkambalam may further aggravate the discriminatory treatment of migrant workers across the State, while regionally, it may worsen the fractured relations between local residents and the largely migrant workforce of Kitex Garments.

That a gathering of migrants for an immunisation drive, a routine affair, at Chittethukara on Sunday whipped up uncharacteristic consternation among local residents and people’s representatives and brought the police to the scene was probably a sign of things.

“The extremely deprived migrant community from the Dalit, Adivasi and marginalised sections may become collateral damage to what is a one-off incident. For a State, which may be among the first to experience the fallout of population decline in the country and may have to depend on migration, fuelling such xenophobic sentiments may be counterproductive,” says Benoy Peter, executive director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development.

George Mathew, chairperson of the Progressive Workers’ Organisation, termed the violence as the frustration of an “enslaved” migrant workforce boiling over. “Even their mobility is largely restrained by the company authorities, leaving little room for interaction with local residents. Neither can they contribute to the local economy like in other migrant labour-intense places such as Perumbavoor, which makes it a mutually beneficial relation,” he said.

“The local residents’ tense relation with the migrants is actually a reflection of their ire towards the company for favouring cheap migrant labourers at their cost. Political leaders should also be careful not to paint the entire migrant worker community as hooligans by their thoughtless statements,” he said. Eldho Cheriyan, a resident in the neighbourhood of the clash, blamed the company for the fractured relation between the local community and its largely migrant workforce. “The recent incident will instil fear about the migrants among local residents now that they have thrashed the police,” he said.

P.H. Anoop, a former UDF councillor from ward 6 where Kitex Garments is located, alleged that the company had used its workforce to remove flex boards put up by an action council against pollution caused by the company in 2012. “The company had then dubbed it as the natural eruption of discontent of the workers against targeting their employer,” he alleged.

Muhsin K.M., another local resident, said the migrant workers felt emboldened to cross the limits thanks to the support of the company management, which had bailed them out in the past.

Meanwhile, questions are being raised about whether the police underestimated the situation while handling a mob, which was on a high following celebrations.

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