Press Statement on Profiling of Migrant Workers

March 09, 2012

Trade unions, student unions and concerned citizens have condemned the Tamilnadu Police Department’s move to “enumerate” workers, college students and tenants based on their ethnicity and language. Calling the move “racist” and “classist,” they warned that such an exercise was openly unconstitutional and interfered with the rights of Indian citizens to move freely within the country. They said that the ethnic profiling moves have vitiated the peaceful atmosphere of the city, and caused a paranoia where every North Indian worker or student is viewed with suspicion. Laying the blame for the mob violence against a mentally challenged Telugu man in Pallikaranai, and the killing of a 19-year old Bihari boy in Pollachi on the vitiated atmosphere caused by the Police campaign, the activists said that persisting with such enumeration could lead to a situation which the Police may find difficult to contain.

Targeting outsiders has been the hallmark of divisive politics practised by chauvinist parties such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which unleashed a wave of violence against Bihari and working poor from other states. Effects of such violence will not be without their associated ripple effects on the local economy and will diminish the State’s value as an investment destination, the groups said.

The groups said they have no objection to registration of workers as provisioned under the Inter-state Migrant Workmens Act 1979, but pointed out that this exercise ought to be carried out by the Labour Department. Most of Tamilnadu’s 10 lakh migrant workers are made to work without according them the protection guaranteed to them under the Act. Despite a law that stipulates that they have to be paid minimum wages, migrant labourers, including child labourers, are forced to work under inhumane conditions for long hours. Many of them are “bonded” to the middlemen who bring them to Tamilnadu from their villages, and are accommodated in tiny tin sheds. They have no recourse to legal protection in the event of accidental injury or death. The ongoing works for the Chennai Metro, for instance, is being carried out by migrant workers who have no protection under law. The contractors and the Government agencies carrying out the works are in violation of the Inter-state Migrant Workers Act. Occupational crimes, including bonded labour and deaths and injuries arising from violations of workplace safety, are never investigated or acted upon by the Police, the groups charged.

Targeting “North Indian” students creates an unhealthy division within an academic setting where important values are sought to be imparted. All students already have ID cards issued by the educational institutions, and the move to enumerate “North Indian” students exposes the racist thinking in the police department.

The citizen groups have demanded that the police stop the racial profiling exercise, and have urged the Labour Department to speedily undertake measures to register the out-of-state workers with a view to according them the protection required under law.

For more information, contact:

Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Workers’ Federation (9444050071)

Madhumita Dutta, Campaign for Justice and Peace-TN (9444390240)

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