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Reverse Migration Haunts Kerala

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India, Aug 10 2013 (IPS) - Raju Das from the north-eastern Indian state Assam migrated to the southern Indian state Kerala two years ago to join the construction boom. Kerala has emerged as the new magnet drawing workers from around India.

A study by the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation (GIFT) published earlier this year reveals that Kerala now has a migrant labour population of 2.5 million, which almost matches the number from Kerala working abroad. Most of these work in the Gulf countries.

The numbers of migrant labour in the state could rise as high as 4.8 million in 10 years to meet local demand, especially in the construction sector, the study said. About 60 percent of workers in construction are already from other states.

“The present [migration] is pervading every nook and corner of villages. It is a bad trend.” -- Shanavas Ponganad, senior journalist at the “Malayam News” daily

The migrant workers, mostly from West Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Uttar Pradesh, send home about 175 billion rupees (2.8 billion dollars) to their home states a year, the study said.

Large-scale migration from Kerala since the 1970s has led to a shortage of local labourers. This backed by the construction boom fuelled by remittances from Kerala workers abroad has fed the increased demand for labourers.

The exodus from Kerala was itself fed by the oil-fed construction boom in Arab countries, Dr. Sreelekha Nair from the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) in Thiruvananthapuram told IPS. “A consequence was shortage of local labour, and wages for manual labour increased manifold.”

Analysts also attribute the large-scale migration into Kerala to the reluctance of local people to do blue-collar jobs given the high literacy rate in the state.

A CDS report last year highlighted that migrant workers were working in sectors like construction, jewellery, small-scale industries, hospitality services, and in food processing centres.

The average unskilled to semi-skilled labourer earns between 300 to 400 rupees (five to six dollars) per day in Kerala, which is higher than wages in many other states.

“About 235,000 migrant workers continue to arrive every year,” Kerala labour minister Shibu Baby John told the state assembly in February. “The workforce consists almost entirely of single men of 18-35 years. The majority of labourers work under contractors.”

Many local people are concerned that the influx of migrants will change the demographic profile, and marginalise the aging local population. Shanavas Ponganad, senior journalist at the “Malayam News” daily, says permanent settlement of migrants would change the scenario for the local population and harm the interests of common people.

“The present wave of migration to Kerala that began in the early 1990s is entirely different from an earlier migration from the neighbouring States of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh,” Ponganad told IPS.

“The earlier migrants were mostly seeking manual jobs and unskilled work in construction and employment in some service sectors in and around cities and towns. But the present one is pervading every nook and corner of villages. It is a bad trend.”

The GIFT study said an explosive demographic situation is developing in Kerala. Within ten years, the majority of the local population will have aged above 40. That would open doors for more migration.

According to the 2011 census report, the state population is about 33.4 million. Of the 8.7 million male population in the 20-64 year age group, only about half are in the local workforce.

Migrants now outnumber local workers in many professions and have totally replaced them in manual jobs and the manufacturing sector, Rajan Thomas, a trade union leader in the construction sector, told IPS.

“Migrants are hard working and do the job sincerely. They work long hours, often eight to 10 hours per day. That is why people prefer migrant labourers.”

Ironically, that is also the virtue of workers from Kerala in countries they have migrated to.

Migrant labourers from the other states are integrated into the host economy, but they are not harmonised with the host society.

“These men spend a lot of money with our merchants and traders for buying commodities. But none of us will invite them to our homes or parties, citing anti-social activities by a few migrants,” Syed Rasa, a migrant worker at Pathanamthitta in the state, told IPS.

“Migrants to Kerala are the backbone of the Kerala’s growing economy. Even though people have some burdens after the influx of non-Keralite workers, there is an obligation to look into the needs and problems of  labourers,” said Mohandas, a social worker in Kozhikode.

According to officials in the department of labour, migrant workers do not benefit from social security schemes, and are unaware of labour rights and obligations.

“The housing and living conditions of migrants are abysmally poor. They often live at worksites and in factories and in crowded rooms with poor water supply and sanitation facilities. The poor living conditions raise fears of diseases,” an official in the labour department told IPS.

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  • hem_sphere

    Oh people of Kerala, get the migrants out before it is too late. It is already kinda late but you’ve still got a chance to reclaim your land.

    Your whole social upkeep will go down the drain if this trend continues.

    Get them out!

  • aneesh

    I am a person from kerala.. I have no problem about migrant workers… they are also Indians..Don’t make issues in kerala like the author. a fraud mentality article…

  • അലവലാതി ഷാജി

    വാട്ട്‌ ഏ നോണ്‍ സെന്‍സെ ബ്ലാടി ഫൂള്‍

  • josef

    something has to be done soon. this is getting out of hand. kerala is for Malayalies..

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