On January 9, 2010, coinciding with the state organised and much publicised Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, workers organisations organised a rally in front of parliament to highlight the complete lack of rights of Indian workers who go abroad for livelihood, as well as workers from other countries who come to India for their livelihood. The workers organisations also raised the issue of lack of rights of internal migrant workers.
India is one among the countries of the world sending out the largest number of migrants (20 million migrants according to World Migration Report 2005). India also hosts migrants from various countries (placed eighth in the world in 2005). India is the largest recipient of workers’ remittances at US$ 52 billion in 2009 according to World Bank estimates. Most of these remittances are made by workers working in the West Asian countries, Canada and other countries. As is to be expected, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas completely ignored the concerns of these workers who constitute the bulk of the Indians working abroad. Its focus was solely on attracting capital of Indians who have made it relatively big in the Western countries.
Lakhs of migrant workers working in West Asia have lost their jobs as a result of the crisis. They have paid huge sums of monies to the touts who organised their tickets and jobs in these countries. It is well known that Indian workers in most West Asian countries have no rights, and even their passports are seized by their employers on arrival. It is also known that the Indian consulates in these countries, as well as in Canada and European countries, and in Australia, are extremely unsympathetic to Indian workers. None of these issues were discussed in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Jamboori.
On the other hand, the plight of workers migrating to India from other countries, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, and those who are internal migrants are also extremely terrible. The recent incidents in Ludhiana, wherein migrant workers from other parts of India went on spontaneous protest bandh against the systematic loot of their hard earned earnings by state supported gangs using the fact that they belonged to other parts of the country, is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is that migrant workers in India, whether from other South Asian countries, or from within India, have no rights. They are savagely exploited by the bourgeoisie, and the Central and state governments work hand in glove with the capitalists to oppress and terrorise these workers. None of these issues were discussed in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
In this context, the workers demanded that
(1) Government adopts a migration policy that ensures rights of those migrating out of India as well as migrating into India, irrespective of race, religion, gender and so on. The policy must recognise India as a migrant sending country as well as a migrant receiving and transit country. It must have a South Asian Perspective, protect the rights of all migrant workers, and address the increasing instances of detention of migrant workers.
(2) The Government must ratify and implement all international legal instruments particularly ILO Conventions 97 and 143, and the 1990 UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. It must work out agreements with governments of destination countries based on these and other human rights standards and ensure protection of the rights of migrant workers.
(3) The government must take stern action against recruiting agents who engage in illegal, unsafe, fraudulent and other practices; and stronger enforcement.
The organisations participating in this protest rally and supporting these and other demands included AITUC, AIUTUC, Mazdoor Ekta Committee, BMS, CITU, HMS, INTUC, TUCC, UTUC, AICCTU, Migrant Nepalese Association India (MINA), CEC, Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) and Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA).