From uncertainty over jobs, food and shelter to being mistaken for a Bangladeshi, the Bengali migrants of Bangalore are being denied basic rights.
Bangalore, February 1st, 2018: Salim (name changed), a migrant worker from Krishnanagar, West Bengal, was busy looking after the newly planted saplings in his yard as the sun shone overhead on an otherwise busy afternoon.
Six months of unemployment has left him and his family of three, in a state of despair.
A small hut and two trucks is all that Jahangir has in Bangalore. Such is the situation of many Bengali migrant workers, who came to the city looking for better opportunities and money.
Sayeeda Bibi, Salim’s wife and house-help said that they had moved from Krishnanagar to Bangalore nine years ago with hopes of making money.
However, Sayeeda added that their financial status has declined over the years. The family only runs on the money that she earns as a house cook.
A little away from the busy streets of Kundanahalli Gate, lies Lalmatti, an open field lined with blue huts beyond the high-rise apartment buildings.
R. Kaleemullah, an activist from Movement for Justice, an NGO that works with labour workers in the city said that Lalmatti was home to around 700 migrant Bengali families from West Bengal.
He added that the living conditions at Lalmatti were e subpar as the families residing there were denied basic necessities like proper toilets, healthcare and educational facilities.
Salim said that all the families at the Lalmatti resort to open defecation in the fields as they do not have the luxury of building bathrooms.
“We do not even get ration as we don’t have a BPL card or a voter ID card… we have given up on the government,” he added.
To add to their woes, he said that the contractors he had worked under have never given him the right amount of money for the last nine years.
“I used to make money by segregating plastic and scrap from the garbage that I used to collect,” Salim claimed.
Anand Reddy, BBMP contractor for Whitefield which comes under Mahadevpura Zone, said that presently, he has about five to six Bengali workers under him while denying claims of non-payment of salaries stating that he pays Rs. 12,500 every month to his workers.
R.Kaleemullah added that this is because the government is confused between the Bengalis from West Bengal and those from Bangladesh.
“These Bengalis are from West Bengal and just because they speak Bangla, people tend to confuse them with Bangladeshis who are here illegally,” he added.
Similarly, Jabbar Jesmin, an active member of the Karnataka Bengali Welfare Society (KBWS), said that the local government think of them as Bangladeshis which is why they are disallowed from applying for ration cards or voter ID cards.
TheKBWS, which held its first All Karnataka Bengali Workers’ Conference in December 2017, was formed to recognise the fact that Bengali migrant workers are denied their rights in the city and serves a platform for them to voice their concerns
He added that the Samiti is working towards providing toilets for every hut in the area along with building a school for a lot of children at Lalmatti which is going to educate the children and adults in Kannada.
Shekhar Naik, a Senior Labour Inspector of Kundanahalli area, said that the Labour Department of Karnataka looks after any violation of labour laws when it comes to migrant workers.
“Cases need to be filed with the Police, Revenue and the Labour Department’s after which immediate action is taken,” Shekhar said.
Dr. S.B. Ravikumar, Deputy Labour Commissioner of Karnataka Labour Department had a similar view where he mentioned that since the department only looks after labour law violations, specific complaints need to be filed.
He added that the government is working towards the betterment of their working conditions.