The Right To Work

Trapped between unemployment and exploitation, 25 villagers from Jorhat Panchayat, Jharkand, are abandoning their ancestral village, heading to the city of Chennai, a city where they hope to find gainful employment. These villagers do not speak Tamil, the local language of Chennai, and will have to compete with thousands of disenfranchised Chennai labourers from India’s eastern states.

The destinations maybe anywhere from Kerala to Delhi, where these migrant villagers will undersell their labour and often take on jobs considered ‘menial’ in the new city- in this case Chennai. Treated as pariah outsiders, migrant workers can be seen living in clusters of makeshift dwellings, without running water, leave alone electricity. In their quest to keep their ancestral land and still make a living, the villagers in this video are gambling on their own lives.

Escaping unemployment, hunger and exploitation, this exodus is not unique to Jharkhand. The migration is seen from Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Assam, Bihar, Orissa and Chattisgarh.

In the case of Jorhat Panchayat, the local government did employ some of the labourers in this video. However, they worked on digging wells for 20 days and were paid a total of Rs. 200 each for the duration of their labour, weeks before this video.

In the face of unemployment and hunger, villagers have been queuing up daily to accept employment from the most ruthless and hostile contractors. Given that they are unskilled and unemployed, they must accept any job that comes their way. If they protest against employment, they are threatened or ignored. There is no protection from the local, state or central government to protect these large groups of workers who are systematically cheated. As Anil Guria, the community correspondent recorded this video, he was personally threatened for shooting footage of the exploitation.

Disenfranchisement happens to villagers all over India. Most of them own a fraction of an acre of land, which does not bring them any viable income. The funds allotted by Delhi for their education have never made it to Jorhat. Schemes like MGNREGA for guaranteed employment do not work in this village, where even a ration card is not allotted for every villager, leave alone a BPL or Job Card.

According to the NREGA website, 3916465 rural households exist in Jharkand and 3808640 Job Cards will be issued before the end of 2013. It is not reasonable to expect that all the remaining rural households depend on NREGA. And yet we find that the Job Cards issued are not sufficient to keep villagers from moving across the country.

Call to Action: Please place a phone call to Shri Mukul Pandey, District Development Commissioner at 094313.11427. Please tell him to issue ration cards, BPL cards and job cards. Please remind him of his responsibility to these villagers and in getting them minimum guaranteed employment.

article by:- Emily Jones

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