are migrants insecure in Gujarat?

What happened? Early this month, migrants working in several districts of Gujarat, and hailing mostly from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, began fleeing, fearing for their lives. What was the trigger? On September 28, a 14-month-old was raped allegedly by a migrant labourer in a small village in Sabarkantha in north Gujarat. The incident sent shock waves in the region and triggered a massive backlash against the growing number of migrants in a rapidly industrialising Gujarat. Immediately after the incident, Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena, headed by Congress legislator Alpesh Thakor, reportedly issued threats against migrants, blaming them for the deteriorating law and order situation in north Gujarat districts. And within a few days, dozens of attacks on migrants were reported from 10 districts. What did the government do? So far, the police have filed 60 cases and arrested 500 people for alleged involvement in assaults/attacks on migrants. In addition, the Ahmedabad police arrested more than 100 people for spreading hate messages on social media platforms. According to data from trade and industry bodies, 40,000 migrants fled the State after the attacks. Why the backlash? Three days before the alleged rape, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced that the State would enact a law to make it mandatory to provide 80% jobs to locals. “Those who set up business in Gujarat, including in the services sector, will have to ensure that 80% of the jobs are given to Gujaratis. The government is working on the law,” Mr. Rupani said. How big is the migrant population? With growing industrialisation and urbanisation, Gujarat, with 43% urban population as per the 2011 Census, has emerged as a major hub for migrant population, particularly from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. Today, a substantial chunk of the State’s labour force in construction sites, security guards, drivers, domestic workers, factory workers in ceramic, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, automobiles and ancillary units and food processing units are Hindi-speaking migrants. Though the exact number of the total migrant population is not available with any government agency, according to industry and trade bodies, migrants account for 35% of the labour force. Surat, Gujarat’s diamond city, has a massive migrant population from more than a dozen States. Migrants dominate textiles and allied units, construction, and heavy industrial factories in Hazira. Other places where migrants work are Ahmedabad, Rajkot, the ceramic hub of Morbi, the chemical and petrochemical hubs of Vadodara and Dahej, Alang, where ships are dismantled, and Sabarkantha.

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