Hanging by a thread

by Anupama Pain, Dilip Chakma, Usma Chakma
Tiruppur district, Tamil Nadu

The garment industry in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu employs nearly 4,00,000 workers from across different regions of the country. The global COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has hit the garment industry hard, and the migrant workers working in the factories, even harder.

The youth between 16 to 25 years of age, of the Chakma tribe from the northeastern states of India, make up one such subset of factory workers. They migrate to the district in significant numbers, and live in shared accommodation across Tiruppur. Since most of them do not have formal contracts, it is easy for their employers to shy away from providing support during this lockdown period. As a result, they find themselves trapped in poor quality accommodation, without cash in hand for accessing essentials.

To make matters worse, most of their families back home are counting on the remittance from their wages. Take for example, Bimal Kanti Chakma, a sole bread earner for a family of four from Arunachal Pradesh, who is finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet as relief in form of ration has not reached him yet, and his rent share of INR 2,000 is looming over him.

For the Chakma migrants, access to essentials is further limited because they are from the northeast. Shanti Bijoy recounts, “We were even chased by some local villagers (for their so-called ‘Chinese’ appearance). We fear to step out alone in the neighborhood. The language barrier also plays a huge problem in seeking help.”

Most of these youth had their hopes pinned on receiving support from their home state. However, the relief packages announced leave the Chakma people living outside the state stranded, giving preference to local residents. This is despite the fact that the Chakma tribe is geographically spread across present day India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

Anupama Pain leads the India Fellow Social Leadership programme. Usma Chakma and Dilip Chakma are both are indigenous people’s rights activists. 

Know more: The lockdown has exposed the extreme vulnerability of migrant workers. Read more about how it could also help to create a system of labour and profit that is more balanced and equitable.

Do more: Connect with the author at anupama@indiafellow.org to understand more about and support their work with the Chakma migrants.

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