Victims of failure to understand


The ordeal faced by four migrant workers who were abused, assaulted or arrested in Kerala because the language barrier left them with no defence against people's suspicions

They come in lakhs from the northern and northeastern states and find jobs in Kerala, whose services sector and farming and construction industries thrive on the physical labour they put in. Yet many of these migrant workers have also faced abuse, assault and arrest — victims of various suspicions and mob justice, unable to defend themselves in the local language.

Amir of Bihar was assaulted by a mob who thought he was a wanted thief. Now in judicial custody, he has no one to plead for his bail.

Dipen Konra of West Bengal lost his way while travelling to Kerala and fell into a series of misadventures that saw him taken into custody twice, and injured permanently by the time he was reunited with his family.

Pramod Kumar Lima was beaten unconscious by a guard after he had sneaked into a school to escape the police. And Bullet Oran of West Bengal, injured in an accident, hanged himself after being denied help by people who thought he was a thief.

Part of people's suspicions has been fed by actual incidents of migrant workers being found involved in theft and murder. Last month, three workers were killed in Kannur in separate clashes among themselves. Police said these clashes usually begin with quarrels after drinking sessions. Last March, a fight between two workers from Assam saw one beating the other to death. Also last year, a worker from Bengal was arrested on charges of attacking a houseowner during a theft attempt in Guruvayoor.

Such is the depth of suspicions that last year, hundreds of workers were chased out of a park in Thiruvananthapuram where they were holidaying. Elsewhere in Kerala, entire workers' camps have been vandalised for thefts and petty crimes.

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