Gujarat migrant crisis: At pivotal Jhansi junction in UP, labourers' stories and rumours from western state converge

Saurabh Sharma | Oct 21, 2018 | 6 min read


At the pivotal Jhansi junction, migrant stories and rumours from Gujarat converge

An evening at the Jhansi railway station puts into sharp focus the panic and the hate in Gujarat that the migrants were running away from.

Saurabh Sharma

Jhansi: The Jhansi railway station in Uttar Pradesh sits at a crucial junction, connecting scores of migrants from across UP, MP and Bihar to the industries and opportunities on the Western coast. One of the biggest stations in North India, Jhansi junction was witness to chaotic scenes earlier this month as migrant workers poured out of northern Gujarat, fearing attacks and threats after the rape of 14-month-old girl, allegedly at the hands of a Bihari factory worker.

Thousands of labours have already returned to their hometowns from Gujarat. There was a chock-a-block situation in almost all the trains coming into Jhansi from Gujarat for at least a week, says Sevak Ram, a porter at the station. There were more people coming to Jhansi from Gujarat compared to from anywhere else, the porter claimed, adding that the volume and direction of the movement were unusual for this time of year. This rush was very different from the usual festival rush.

"I am here since more than seven years and have never seen people returning in this such numbers. Initially, we thought that these people are returning to their homes for Diwali festival and we later got to know they were trying to save themselves from getting attacked by Gujarati people who were upset by the unfortunate incident of rape," he says.

Sevak Ram adds that whatever had been happening in Gujarat was not right because these people were there for earning a livelihood for their families. "Punishing an entire community for a crime committed by one man is not right. The labourers were telling us how local people were identifying where they are from by demanding to see their Aadhaar cards," Ram says, adding that the porters were trying to assist every worker who was returning from Gujarat by not charging them or by offering them food and fruits. Some of the porters even paid for the local fare of some returning workers because they had absolutely to no money on them, he says.

Vineet Kumar*, also a porter at the station, says that whatever is happening to the people of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Gujarat is not at all fair. "There are thousands of people from other states who live in Jhansi but our brothers are being beaten up for a crime they had no connection to. I have been listening to the stories of labourers who have returned to Jhansi and got to know that they are being looted and robbed and their houses are ransacked by Gujarati people," he says. He also said that a lot of people have been forced to return to their homes without receiving their salaries and some have completed their journey without having eaten a single grain. "Their condition is very bad. It is very sad for me to see people from this land return with empty hands," he said.

Manish Kumar, a resident of Jhansi who returned from Ahmedabad through a jam-packed Sabarmati Express on October 10, says that he was first threatened and then attacked by locals. "It was the initial days when I was attacked while returning from the clothing factory where I work. They first threatened me and asked me to leave this place but on the second day, a group of more than half a dozen people attacked me, demanding I back to the place I came from and never return. Otherwise, they would kill me, they said." He further says that he couldn’t collect his last month’s salary from the company where he works but his employer has assured him on the telephone that his hard earned money is safe and that he could collect it anytime.

"There is no humanity left in the Gujarati people; they attack every single person they identify from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar and even Madhya Pradesh. I have received injuries on my back and shoulder. One of my relatives has been admitted to a hospital in Ahmedabad and his condition is very serious," says Kumar, while showing us his injuries. Many others are still stuck or are in hiding in Gujarat to save their lives, he says.

Bajarangi Singh, a steelworker from Ahmedabad who has returned on the same train, says that the incidents have been perpetrated on the behest of a big Congress leader. "We do not know what actually triggered the people of Gujarat to start attacking all Hindi-speaking people. They have asked every single worker from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to leave if they want to stay alive. Whatever had happened with the girl is wrong and we workers also demand strict punishment for the accused but how fair it is to treat all of us like we are responsible for the crime," asks Singh, who hails from Lalitpur. "The situation in Gujarat is very toxic for us," he says.

Ramjeevan Kumar, another steelworker who is also returning from Ahmedabad, believes that the girl was raped by a local man and the workers from UP and Bihar are being made scapegoats. “Modo ji ka chaal hai sab (they are all Modi’s designs),” he says, claiming that out of the 800 or so people who work with him, barely a hundred have stayed behind.

"They are beating us mercilessly everywhere they find us. They are blood-thirsty. They have snatched our mobile phones and money. They do not want us to be in Gujarat anymore," Amit Kumar says. He has been working in Gujarat for two years and the other he had been living and working with have stayed back in Gujarat because they were too scared to even venture out to make the return journey home. “They are even attacking us on the roads after identifying us using our Aadhaar cards.”

Gaurishankar Bidua, a leader of Bundelkhand Panchayat Union, says that it is very unfortunate that people of these states are facing a lot of harassment in Gujarat. "People would not have moved to Gujarat if there were enough employment opportunities in these states. I deplore the fact that labourers from our state are facing this. We welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi with open arms but Gujarati people are adamant to send every citizen back to UP and Bihar, this is not done," he said. It is worth mentioning that a few days ago, the newly floated UP-Bihar Ekta Manch protested against this in Varanasi and posters of "Narendra Modi Benaras Chhodo" had surfaced across the city.

* Names changed to protect identities

With inputs from Ajay Jha

[Saurabh Sharma and Ajay Jha are Lucknow and Jhansi based freelance writers respectively and are a part of 101Reporters.]

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