Kodagu’s Bengal, Assam migrants face eviction

A coffee estate near Madikeri in Kodagu which was destroyed in a landslide. DH Photo

Not my monkey, not my circus.

This may well sum up how migrant workers from Assam and West Bengal, hundreds of them, are viewed in the relief camps of Somwarpet.

Most of them have worked in Kodagu’s coffee, pepper and arecanut plantations for years. The floods ravaged the estates and their jobs, leaving them in the care of relief camps.

Now, officials have decided to pack them back to their states if plantation owners fail to come forward to take care of them. The workers are in a state of quandary since most plantation owners moved to Bengaluru and Mysuru to avoid the floods and have not contacted them.

Sample this: Noor Hussain, 33, was in his native Sonapur in Assam about a month ago to get himself enrolled in the National Register of Citizens. He returned to Kodagu only to find that he no longer had his job at the Durgadevi Estate in Madapura, thanks to heavy rainfall and landslides. Not just him, 64 others from Assam who worked in the same estate lost their jobs, too.

Ainuddin Ali, 29, from Guwahati, came here six months ago having spent Rs 17,000 on travel. “If my family has to go back now, it’ll cost Rs 30,000. We don’t have money because we’ve been out of work for more than a month,” he said. “But if my owner wants me to leave, then I will.”

Assamese and Bengalis come to Kodagu due to ample job opportunities that the plantations here provide. Each worker is paid ₹278 per day along with perks, including shelter, to perform gardening, applying fertilisers, cleaning and other tasks. “There are no opportunities for women to work in Assam,” said Shamshun Neher, 23. “So here, my husband and I can work and earn that much more.”

Sunil Besra, a native of Hooghly in West Bengal, came to Kodagu 11 years ago. He has even picked up a taste for Kannada. “We are poor, and we don’t want to go back to be poor. We’d like to stay,” he said. Besra worked at the Hattigeri Bakery Estate and was displaced in the floods.

Anger against migrants

The locals here have become vocal about these migrants, which earlier was just an undertone. “They come here and take our jobs,” says Satish Kumar B K, a local volunteer at the Madapura relief camp, which has more than 100 Assamese and 25 Bengalis. “If they stay, our people may have to go out.”

Somwarpet tahsildar P S Mahesh told DH that all relief camps had been asked to list migrant workers separately.

“We have also identified the plantation owners they worked for. Some have come forward to take them back. For those who aren’t taken, we’re making arrangements to have them sent back to whichever state they came from,” he said.

“For instance,” Mahesh said, “there are 133 Assamese in the Madapur relief camp. If we’re able to send them, we’ll have that many less to take care of.”

P C Deepak, owner of the five-acre Giridhari Estate, has reached out to the 13 workers he had employed. “I must have incurred a loss of ₹15 lakh per acre due to the landslide. Practically, what’s the point of keeping them here when I have no job for them,” he asked.

Vinod, manager of the Trinity Plantation at Mukkodlu, bluntly asked all his 18 workers from Assam to go back if they want to. “I don’t want to drag anything on my head. If they stay, they can rebuild the estate. Else, I’ll find others to work.”

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Kodagu’s Bengal, Assam migrants face eviction

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