TN govt in damage control mode as migrant workers issue gets bigger

Police files case against BJP leader Annamalai for triggering panic, TN people are “nice”, says Governor, industry concerned about worker exodus

migrant workers
“Migrant workers from northern states are living without any fear. Those spreading false news to disturb the peace and create tension are being identified and strict action will be taken against them,” said TN police in a statement. Representational image: iStock

Amid allegations of attacks on migrant workers in Tamil Nadu, which have been strongly denied by the state, the MK Stalin government is in fire-fighting mode. The state government has reached out to the labourers, promising them  safety and security, while also launching a crackdown against people allegedly spreading “fake news” regarding such attacks. 

Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi on Sunday sought to assuage the fears of migrant workers, saying TN people are “nice and friendly”. 

Workers need not panic, Raj Bhavan said in a series of tweets posted in Tamil, English, and Hindi. “Governor urged the North Indian labourers in Tamil Nadu not to panic and feel insecure, as the people of Tamil Nadu are very nice and friendly, and the state government is committed to provide them security,” said its official Twitter handle.

TN government’s outreach


As part of the state government’s outreach, Salem District Collector S Karmegam celebrated Holi with North Indian labourers on Sunday. He distributed sweets to the workers and assured them of their safety, asking them not to panic. 

Also read: ‘Attack’ reports: ‘All migrant workers safe in Tamil Nadu,’ Stalin assures Nitish

The Bihar Association in Tamil Nadu held a meeting with migrant workers employed in Chennai. “I am living safely here. Videos circulating on social media are fake. My family back home has been concerned about my safety ever since the news started circulating but I have reassured them about my safety,” said Santosh Kumar, a labourer from Bihar working in the city.

More than 1 million migrant labourers are estimated to work in Tamil Nadu in various sectors, including the garment industry.

District officials of Tiruppur, the garment export hub at the heart of the migrant issue, met representatives from the Bihar government on Sunday. The Tiruppur administration also held a meeting with representatives of business and industry associations and migrant workers. “We have a meeting with a high-level committee on the migrant labourers’ issue. Fake news is being spread on social media by some people. Local and migrant labourers share good ties,” said KM Subramania of the  Tiruppur Exporters’ Association.

“Migrant workers from northern states are living without any fear. Those spreading false news to disturb the peace and create tension are being identified and strict action will be taken against them,” said the police in a statement.

Industry concerned

The ruling DMK has accused “certain elements” — including BJP members — of creating panic by sharing “fake news” and “fake videos”. Between the back and forth between the state government and BJP leaders on the issue, the industry has expressed concern. It is worried that the atmosphere of fear would lead to an exodus of migrant workers.The Tamil Nadu Hotel Association and South India Mills Association urged the state government to ensure their safety.

Some sectors like hotels and MSMEs (small and medium enterprises) reported that a section of workers did not turn up for work, possibly influenced by “fake” videos and reports. However, reports said the migrants have informed the police that they are visiting their hometowns for Holi, which falls on March 8, and would return to work later. 

The state’s economy depends substantially on migrant workers, more so in the construction, hotels and garments industries. If the labourers choose to head back home out of fear, the industries may be hit hard. 

State BJP chief booked

In a series of tweets on Saturday, state BJP chief K Annamalai had accused the DMK of making “shocking” comments against North Indians. The divide that the DMK had stood for was coming back to bite it, he said. 

On Sunday, Chennai City Police’s Central Crime Branch (CCB) filed a case against him on the charge of resorting to “false propaganda” against the Tamil Nadu government. The Crime Branch registered a case under four sections of 153, 153A(1)(a), 505(1)(b), and 505(1)(c) of the Indian Penal Code for promoting disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, and language. 

Police said Annamalai was charged with posting false messages on social media against the state government, and for trying to provoke riots between the people of Tamil Nadu and migrant workers in the State.

Annamalai said on Sunday that he had heard of the case, and that he had only sought to expose the DMK’s seven-decade propaganda against “North Indian brothers”. He challenged the “fascist DMK” to arrest him. “You think that you can suppress democracy by filing false cases. I give you 24 hours and dare you to touch me,” he said on Twitter.

BJP leader from UP, Prashanth Umrao, tweeted that “15 Bihari workers were beaten up and hanged in Tamil Nadu”. It was alleged in the tweet that “12 of them were dead”. Tamil Nadu police said the news was fake and filed a case against the BJP leader. Another video of a Bihar labourer claiming an attack on migrants in Tamil Nadu was shared by the Twitter handle of the BJP’s Bihar unit. 

Tamil Nadu police has booked Umrao, an editor of Dainik Bhaskar who owns the Twitter handle ‘Tanveer Post’, and another person under various sections of the IPC for spreading misinformation. A police team is camping in Delhi to arrest Umrao.

Workers troubled

Though most of the assault videos have been deemed fake, there is a certain discomfiture among the migrants. A PTI report said returnees from Tamil Nadu are sharing their woes with journalists at railway stations, saying though they have come back for Holi festivities, they would not like to go back to work if the situation did not improve. 

“I work as a carpenter. My earnings barely suffice to keep my body and soul together. The environment in Tamil Nadu has made matters worse. I would not like to go back unless there is an improvement in the situation,” said a PTI report quoting Vinod, who hails from Motihari. 

Similar sentiments were expressed by Vishal and Vivek, both from Muzaffarpur, who alleged, “We always face insults and, of late, even physical assaults are taking place. We hope that we get some work on our home soil. Who would like to go far away and face humiliations?”

CM, DGP warn of action

Tamil Nadu DGP C Sylendra Babu said the viral videos were “false and mischievous”. He said the two clashes seen in them weren’t between Tamil Nadu people and migrant labourers; instead, they were internal feuds.

“The first video shows two groups of Bihari migrant labourers fighting against each other in Tiruppur. The other one shows clashes between local residents of Coimbatore and not that of migrant workers. They all are people from Tamil Nadu,” he said. The DGP alleged that facts were twisted to make it appear migrant workers were attacked in Tamil Nadu.

Chief Minister Stalin has condemned the rumour mongering. “Those who spread rumours that migrant workers are being attacked in Tamil Nadu are harming the integrity of the country,” he said. He also assured his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar that all migrant labourers in the state are safe and that the police has registered cases against two journalists of a Hindi daily for spreading rumours.

Bihar government action

The Bihar government was forced to act after the issue took a political turn. The BJP protested inside the Assembly on March 2, claiming labourers from the state were attacked in Tiruppur. The JDU-RJD alliance government was under pressure over Nitish wishing Stalin on his birthday, in the backdrop of the alleged attack.

Also read: Nitish concerned over alleged attacks on Bihar labourers in Tamil Nadu

On Saturday, a four-member team of officials from Bihar left for Tamil Nadu to look into the allegations of attacks on migrant workers. Nitish told journalists the decision was taken after deliberations that took place over a couple of days.

According to a statement issued by the Bihar police headquarters, the team comprises D Balamurugan, Secretary for Rural Development; P Kannan, Inspector General of Police (CID); Alok Kumar, Labour Commissioner; and Santosh Kumar, SP, Special Task Force. The team is scheduled to meet Tamil Nadu’s Chief Secretary, DGP, and other top officials besides visiting Tiruppur district. Balamurugan and Kannan, who hail from Tamil Nadu, have reportedly been chosen to obtain “internal feedback” without language barriers. 

The Bihar team spoke to the media on Sunday. “We want to tell Bihari labourers that rumours are being spread. We request them not to fall for the fake videos. All the labourers are safe here” said one of the members.

The team also expressed “happiness” over the Tamil Nadu government’s outreach initiative. “We are happy about that. After the intervention of the Tiruppur district administration, normalcy is getting restored. But we are going to meet labourers from Bihar individually and would share their feedback with the district administration. The actions taken by the Tamil Nadu government are satisfactory,” said a team member.

Meanwhile, deposed AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam said the Tamil Nadu government is duty-bound to ensure the safety of migrant workers and at the same time see to it that local youth get employment in the state.