Perumbavoor in Central Kerala is a mini India. Migrant workers from all over India come to this place looking for work. Workers from many states who get paid around Rs 200 for a day’s work in their home states, get around Rs 1000 as wage here.
Sunday is a busy day in Perumbavoor. Workers who get their weekly pay and weekly day off come here to send money back home via Cash Deposit Machines, meet their friends, share their stories, buy clothes, mobile phone, recharge their mobile phone, copy music and films to their phones, , have a hair-cut, watch Bengali or Assamese movies playing in the theatre in town and finally eat rasa gulas and other homely food from Assam hotel.
Narendra Modi’s late night ban of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes hit these workers like a thunder bolt. It paralysed the plywood factories around the town and many of them have closed down making its workers jobless overnight, many companies that still keep afloat are finding it hard to pay the wages and some of them are firing their workers.
I went to Perumbavoor last Sunday. Although there are workers milling around the town, compared to earlier days, it’s a dead town. Benny V Paul who runs the Assam hotel says this is exodus. The crowd who thronged his hotel for their favourite dishes is gone or is going home. Jam-packed trains are leaving from Aluva, the nearest railway station. This is an exodus of enormous proportion.
Jyothi junction, the horde of workers, is almost empty. It has hit all sorts of business. Auto rickshaws which used to do brisk business on Sundays, wait in long queue looking for a customer. Many auto drivers say that they used to make Rs 4000-5000 on a Sunday. Many of them do not own the vehicle but rent from others. The Sunday business was enough to pay the rental and other expenses. Now they hardly earn Rs 1000 on a Sunday and much less on other days. Many drivers have stopped plying their autos.
On Sundays, street vendors mushroom everywhere with cheap jeans, shirts and trousers. Now nobody is buying from them. Sales have dropped by almost 75 % said Ikrasul, a street vendor.
Benoy Peter, executive director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development, told Times of India that this exodus is a state-wide phenomenon. “There is a significant industrial stagnation and this has resulted in an exodus of migrant labourers,” Benoy said adding that this is sector specific. According to him, the impact is seen mostly in informal sectors like construction, hotels, quarrying and fishing.
There are around 35 lakh migrant labourers in the state, but it is impossible quantify the people who have left, he said.
“In Ponnani several fishing boats have not gone to sea because the migrant labourers, who were not getting paid, left,” he said. This might be temporary and they might comeback, but this would depend on how quick the currency crisis is resolved. “It’s hard for them to stay back because you need money for food and paying rent. Initially, many were paid in banned high denomination notes. Those without bank accounts used to send money back home through accounts of friends, but this is difficult now,” Benoy said.
The workers who are still have jobs and staying are not coming for their Sunday haunt, not even to eat their favourite rasgullas.
But there is one thing that is doing good business in Perumbavoor. Coloured metal trunks! They will pack their lives, livelihoods and memories in a trunk and go back home. To an uncertain future.
Binu Mathew is the Editor of www.countercurrents.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org