The COVID-19 pandemic, since its onset last year, has spared almost no quarter and has severely affected the livelihoods of thousands of migrant workers residing in urban slums of Bangalore. Many of them hail from Northern states, while a large number of them have migrated from West Bengal. They have been robbed of opportunities, wages as well as dignity, they say. As a result, the workers have taken to the streets, raising voices against their exclusion by the State and demanding sustainable livelihood opportunities.
The protests have seen participation from thousands of workers — working as rag pickers, bus drivers, domestic helpers, plumbers, etc. — residing in urban slums in Kundalahalli, Bellandur, Whitefield, and Brookfield have come together under the banner of Interstate Migrant Workers’ Federation Karnataka (IMFK), affiliated to the Centre of India Trade Union (CITU).
Abdul Jabbar Mondal who resides in Kundalahalli slum, which houses a population of about 30,000 people, told NewsClick that pandemic-induced lockdown snatched away his job, leaving him vulnerable, staring at hunger and endless miseries. While rag pickers are allowed to work between 6 am and 10 am, it is not enough to fill their empty pockets and stomachs. Even buying medicines or masks is a distant dream for many. Chances of getting vaccinated too seem scarce as the state government has not offered them any help, said Abdul Jabbar.The state government is duty-bound to provide enough sustenance as per Section 10, 11 read with 12 of the Disaster Management Act to deal with the pandemic.
As per Nabanita Roy, an IMFK activist, many female workers have lost their jobs as domestic workers since the outbreak of the pandemic, leaving their families in the lurch.
Thousands of workers from Brookfield and Whitefield slums are construction workers who claimed that they have been excluded from benefits like ration distribution, testing and vaccines.
KN Umesh, IMFK state president and a CITU office bearer, said migrant workers settled in slums across the city were in dire need of help from the state, which was not in sight during the second wave. The Karnataka government assured relief packages to migrant workers, but the precondition of giving it to only BPL card holders obstructed the needy from availing it. Many migrant workers hailing from states like West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Tripura, etc. did not qualify to be direct beneficiaries of any government aided relief.
The IMFK union has also put forward a demand for a direct cash transfer of Rs 2,000 per individual and Rs 10,000 per family with 10 kgs of ration per head based on Aadhaar. A memorandum stating these demands among others was handed over to the chief minister, seeking immediate intervention.
Speaking to NewsClick over phone, CPI(M) Politburo member and West Bengal CPI(M) state secretary Surjyo Kant Mishra stressed the urgency to address concerns of migrant workers in Bangalore. He said, “The Karnataka state government has remained apathetic when it came to rescuing workers since the first COVID-19 lockdown. The situation is not much different during the second wave. In this context, the demands that the workers have put forth are legitimate and should be considered immediately.”