KOCHI: A room that he shares with six others in Kerala’s business capital Kochi is the closest thing that 20-year-old Johirul Sheikh from Assam has to a home for now. He came to Kochi around two years ago with a dream to educate his sister and support his parents. But like most of his friends, he is worried about the floods back home. Last he heard from his family, they had shifted to a relief shelter as flood waters breached their house in Kaziranga.
“We are getting calls for money. There are lots of problems. They have no food, no shelter, they are in desperate need for money. We miss them but we are here because we get paid better. Much better than what we would get back home for this kind of job. This is our gulf,” Johirul, who works as a daily wager at a juice shop, said.
Johirul’s friend, Mohammad Nazeemuddin while putting together a juice rather creatively, said they work 12 hours a day and their food and accommodation is provided by the employers. “But it’s the new arrivals who find it difficult. Sometimes you have to sleep at railway stations or parks, because getting a room isn’t easy. New migrants have to spend few days learning the language before they can look out for a job and till then, we have to feed them. It becomes an extra burden,” said Nazeemmuddin said.
Abdul Basheer is the owner of a small hotel for last 15 years. He said he has found a way of ensuring the hotel functions smoothly. “In my hotel all (employees) are Assamese. Malayalees stick for a week or two and go to gulf. If we give Assamese 600 (rupees), we need to give Malayalees at least 800 (rupees) but they do less work in comparison,” Abdul said.
Ramzan Ali, in his late 20s and one of Abdul’s trusted hotel employees, skilfully makes at least 1,000 Kerala parottas (flatbreads) every day, something not many Malayalis can boast of. He came from Assam’s Kaziranga seven years ago. And gradually helped his school and college friends from the same neighbourhood to reach Kochi and find themselves jobs.
“I learnt the language here… I save around 15,000 rupees and send back home every month. I just keep around Rs 3,000 for myself. I manage to go home once a year for Eid,” Ramzan Ali said.
The Kerala government has decided to provide health insurance to around 30 lakh migrant workers across Kerala. But for now, falling sick is a costly affair.
“I have heard about the health card meant for us but don’t know anything more about this. If we fall sick and take leave for a day, our employer deducts Rs 500. We need to add the medicine cost to all this… It’s difficult,” Shafeek Alam said.