Relief Campaign
CPIML Activities in Kerala during the Lockdown

AS lockdown was declared all over the country on 24th March without any preparation or clear-cut administrative vision to ease the impending adverse consequences on millions of migrant workers stuck in various parts of the country , fears loomed large over the plight of sections of poor, unorganised workers, small traders, daily wage earners and particularly that of migrant workers stuck in Kerala . At this point of time, the state administration was facing the formidable challenge of taking most urgent steps in containing the Covid-19 pandemic within manageable limits before it entered to the next stage of community transmission.

Following the lockdown, the Chief Minister of Kerala Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan had reiterated the state government's commitment to ensure that lockdown wages would be fully paid by the employers in each establishment and that dismissal and retrenchment of employees would not be allowed. In his televised press meetings, the Chief Minister also reassured that there were ample stocks of food items and other essential commodities and there was no need for the public to be anxious about short supply of such items. For daily wage earners who do not work under a particular employer, and other sections of poor and marginalized, the Chief Minister declared that additional free rations to all these sections would be distributed to compensate their loss of work and income due to lockdown. He categorically made an important announcement that no one in the state including the guest workers would go hungry due to the lockdown. In accordance to the government's policy of extending help to all who have been rendered without work and earnings, community kitchens were established all over the state thanks to the combined efforts of local administrations and labour, revenue and police departments. In the successful organisation and running of these community kitchens, women in Kudumbashree (SHGs units), ASHA workers and anganvadi workers played a most significant role.

In addition to the above mentioned categories, young volunteers were also recruited at local administration bodies wards’ level and exclusively with the purpose of carrying out the state government's fight against Covid-19 with optimum inputs of man power keeping with the norms of physical distancing, hygiene, and personal protection. Severe restrictions were also imposed on members of the general public venturing out of their homes and protocols such as mask-wearing were also enforced.

It is in the above scenario that the extra-precarious plight of lockdown affected migrant workers attracted attention in Kerala as well, as happened all over the country. Hardly two days had passed since declaration of lockdown,  messages began pouring in from at least some of the 5000 pus migrant worker camps in Kerala seeking solutions for problems for food. In many social media platforms as well the issue was raised by activists. However, near total absence of matching reports in newspapers and television channels was conspicuous. Added to this, there was also kind of euphoria among the general public that everything was going well thanks to the LDF government’s preparedness and leadership. While the government of Kerala was far ahead of its counterparts in mobilizing and organizing relief and taking it up to hundreds of thousands of lockdown affected migrant workers, it is also worth mentioning that the enormous goodwill and support it drew from the public also helped this happen. Even in such a situation, there were many lacunae particularly in the case of fool proof arrangements in solving the crisis of food experienced mainly by daily wage earners among the migrant workers.    

Comrades in Kerala together with few activists and progressive minded individuals helped organize a WhatsApp group named ‘Migrant Workers Help Group’ on 26 March. This group comprises nearly 100 members from all over Kerala who would primarily connect the distraught workers with various government helplines and officials. Comrades working through this platform could bring to the notice of the government certain shortcomings including the inadequacies in addressing the most pressing problem of delivering food ration to all migrant workers.

While the government could insist companies and big contractors to provide lockdown wages and food for migrant workers, there was a large number of daily wage earners, construction workers and helpers who were rather working independently, without being under any big contractor, and working in many  informal / unorganized sectors. These workers stay in rented apartments and many of them did not have automatic access to community kitchens either,  even while they were out of work and out of any source of income. Owners of buildings that house them were required (through the labour department) by the government to provide food to their tenants.

These building owners were also prohibited from demanding rent from the labourers. In the absence of any substantial backing up or assurance by the government, many of the building owners were either reluctant or genuinely incapable of taking such a burden beyond a few days. In such matters, there was confusion all around as to who would provide food in cases where the building owners would not or could not. It was precisely on such occasions that migrant workers would get connected with members of our group to place their grievances. Consequently, in many cases Labour Officers and Local Bodies authorities, Revenue dept officials and other officials at the helplines state and district levels had sincerely done their part in solving many specific problems. Many cases of migrant workers in need were referred to us by the all India network of CPIML and AICCTU comrades Solutions have been possible in most of these Kerala based cases due to the perseverance of Kerala comrades until some actions were taken by the authorities.

Apart from problems of food, migrant workers also critically needed assistance in solving the big problem of information gap between them and the respective governments in their home states. When various state governments issue notifications or launch specific mobile Apps through which concerned state’s migrant workers would be promised of financial assistance, informed of the facility and methods for booking tickets in Shramik Speial trains, the workers stuck in faraway places either would not know of them at all or would get only a vague idea. In such cases, our quick responses to their queries and interventions to connect through the government help lines and also spreading such authentic messages among the workers have been quite useful.  

An occasion when our comrades through their perseverance and ability to co-ordinate from within and with several state government agencies was when a young worker from Bardhman district died after being admitted to the Calicut Medical College. The deceased migrant worker had a history of treatment in the same hospital for a cardiac ailment but due to Covid -19 related exigencies, there was initial apprehension if the body could be brought to his close relatives in his village or if at all a decent funeral could be arranged. Thanks to our persistent efforts and involvement and co-operation by all officials concerned, each kind of anticipated difficulty was successfully overcome. We were able not only to get an ambulance arranged but also got sanctioned by the labour department the most needed relief of Rs 50,000 towards the ambulance charges. Without active involvement and participation of everybody concerned the ambulance could not have cleared of all obstacles and restrictions in crossing interstate borders particularly while the vehicle was returning back to Kerala from Bardhman.

Our campaigns and protests during lockdown

The Kerala comrades could actively participate in most campaigns and protest programmes called by the central committee during the lockdown period. Besides,  the message of building peoples’ unity against Modi government’s anti-labour and anti-poor policies was conveyed to larger sections of people through our social media platforms. Two newly created open face book groups one each in the name of Kerala Party and AICCTU Kerala have been very effective in reaching larger audiences and propagating the party vision among the masses with some degree of success.

-- Venu 

Liberation Archive