Gujarat remains on edge as migrants face backlash

Migrant workers in Gujarat remained on the edge on Sunday amid alleged threats and violence they have been facing after a 14-month-old was “raped” in the state’s Himmatnagar district last month.

Raghuvir Sahu, a ceramic factory worker from Bihar, has been arrested for allegedly raping the baby.

The rape has triggered attacks on workers in Mehsana, Sabarkantha and Aravali districts since September 28.

Police said two men from Uttar Pradesh were assaulted in Ahmedabad’s Ghatlodia and Sardarnagar areas on Sunday.

Migrant workers have been leaving for Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar ahead of the usual time this holiday season, with many alleging they have been asked to leave by October 8.

Uttar Bharatiya Vikas Parishad (North Indian Development Council) president Shyamsinh Thakur said they have received reports that migrants have been asked to leave by October 8.

“We fear that if this escalates, it may sow the seeds of a regional divide,” said Thakur.

Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Hasmukh Hingu echoed Thakur and said they too had been receiving reports about threats to migrant labourers. “In some cases, they have been injured also.’’

He said a large number of migrant labourers are part of the industrial workforce in Gujarat.

“The industries are running overtime to meet deadlines before Diwali. We appeal to the government to take adequate measures.”

Bhavani Lal, who lives in Ahmedabad’s Chandlodiya, said they were planning to leave for Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind around Diwali. “But due to tensions in our area in Ahmedabad, we have decided leave early. We have not received any direct threat…”

Rupesh Sikarwar of Satyam Travels in Meghaninagar said they usually run a daily bus service for Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.

“But these days, we are running an extra bus or two due to the rush. Some are panic-stricken while others are going back for other reasons.”

Pappu Chottelal said around 1,200 to 1,400 migrants from Madhya Pradesh like him live in Chandlodiya.

“Over the last few days, some 150 of them have returned… Though police have been patrolling in the area, some people came on Saturday and threatened us to leave.”

Gujarat police chief Shivanand Jha on Sunday visited violence-hit areas and insisted that migrants were mostly leaving because of the holiday season. “…many people are leaving because of Durga Puja, Diwali and Chhath (festivals) are around the corner. I have asked policemen to talk to people and assure them of security in case they are leaving out of fear.”

Police have arrested over 300 people for the violence. “Five persons have been arrested for spreading rumours on the social media,’’ said Jha. He added they have provided security in industrial and residential areas in the affected areas.

Congress lawmaker Alpesh Thakor has threatened an agitation for the release some of the men from his Kshatriya Thakor Sena , who have been arrested for the violence. He said his community men have been falsely implicated. Deputy CMNitin Patel said they know who and which party is behind the violence.