National Webinar on Migrant Lives Matter

The Ashakiran Jesuit Study House in collaboration with the Department of Sociology, St Aloysius College (Autonomous), Mangalore, organized a national webinar on the theme “Migrant Lives Matter” on 17th October 2020. Rev. Fr. Martin Puthuserry SJ, Head of Labour and Migration Unit, Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, was the speaker of the day. Rev. Fr. Martin has done and continues to do extensive study on the migrant workers on India (with special concentration on the Northern and Eastern part of the country) and thus had enormous amount of information and his personal experiences to share.

The webinar began with a soulful prayer by the Jesuit Brothers followed by a warm welcome to the speaker and the participants by Rev. Fr. Alphonse Fernandes SJ, Superior, Ashakiran. The opening remarks of the webinar was made by Rev. Fr. Dr Praveen Martis SJ, Principal, St Aloysius College (Autonomous), Mangalore. A very thought provoking message was made by the Principal where he spoke about the woes of the migrants which has been there always and was heightened during the Lockdown during COVID 19 and how St Aloysius College has come forward in performing their social responsibility in these trying times.

The speaker, Rev. Fr. Martin opened his talk stating “Migrant woes ‘greatest manmade tragedy’ in India since Partition” which is one of the most highlighted quotes in recent times by the famous historian Ramachandra Guha. He presented a completely new perspective to the migrant situation by comparing their plight with two historical events: firstly with the disturbing images of mass migration during the partition of India in 1947 and secondly, the exodus experiences of the people of Israel from the slavery in Egypt (Biblical reference).

He went on to stress that in contemporary India decades of rural distress has led to forced migration among landless agricultural labourers and marginal farmers. However, he pointed towards the fact that urban India did not really care for these migrant labourers till the COVID 19 lockdown was announced and the services of these migrants were not available. And to add to it there was complete failure and lack of preparedness by the government during that time. However, despite the struggle and hardships, these migrant labourers preferred taking all kinds of risk and trouble to get back to their villages and hometowns. This was basically their means of survival in their workplace was no longer available and the only way they could survive was getting back to their homes where somehow they could manage to live.

Amidst all of this there was a ray of hope because when the government failed these poor and helpless migrant labourers the common man played a major role. Various NGOs, Civil Society, Educational Institutions, Students etc. came forward to help.

Rev Fr Martin had four suggestions to give in order to improve the erstwhile troubled situation of these migrant workers: accepting them as fellow citizens; protection of their rights; including them in unorganised workers’ social security boards; and providing them with basic services and entitlements. The talk concluded with the reference to the Constitution of India [Art.19] (1) (d) and (e) which states, “all citizens shall have the right ... to move freely throughout the territory of India; to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India”. However, this is possible only when everyone ensures that migrants get justice and only then will they be ever able to lead a dignified human life throughout the country.

The last part of the webinar, an interactive session, was moderated by Ms Joan Rita O’Brien, HoD, Department of Sociology, St Aloysius College (Autonomous), Mangalore. The speaker took questions from participants across the country and answered each of them with his expertise and experience over the years and ended on a very positive and optimistic note that Indians have the never to give up spirit and that what has kept us all going during the difficult times of COVID 19.

The webinar was moderated by Bro. Dapulu Dukru and the vote of thanks was delivered by Bro. Joseph Maxwell Jeevakan.