Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

Interrogating stereotypes about migrant populations

Yesterday, DNA reported that the Health Minister of Kerala suggested that migrant workers from across the country bring new diseased to the state, and for this reason “as part of ‘Safe Kerala’ campaign, nearly 25 lakh work force from other states, staying in different labour camps, would be screened”. The Indian Express published a report today titled ‘Kerala: Rising Rural Crime Linked to Migrants‘, which contained data on links between migrants and the crime rate in Ernakulam. Statements and news reports like these, without proper context, contribute to negative stereotypes about migrant labour.

Migrant labourers, in this discourse, become the source of the problem; rather than being identified as the sufferers.

The Health Minister’s statements came in response to accusations about the state government not taking enough measures to prevent outbreaks of viral fever in the region. He presented the health screening of migrant labour camps as proof that the state was indeed countering this problem; and the article reports: “An inspection at the labour camps had found most of the workers suffering from different disorders, including skin problems, tuberculosis, HIN1 and malaria”.

Migrant labourers, in this discourse, become the source of the problem; rather than being identified as the sufferers. The screening at the camps is not presented as a welfare measure, or as a part of the migrants’ entitlements to healthcare from the state–rather the screening is being undertaken to posit the migrants as the root of the problem.

Migrant labour, especially in the informal sector, is the backbone of many states’ economies in contemporary India. Yet in popular discourse, migrants are constructed as outsiders, interlopers, crowding cities and spreading diseases. The Indian Express report expressly lists connections between a high number of migrants and crimes associated to migrant workers; yet such statistics, without proper contextual grounding, serve to create negative stereotypes about migrant workers.

Last month, the Kerala police issued directives to college thumb impressions of all migrant workers in Ernakulam as a crime prevention measure; and to make matters worse, cited a legal provision for surveys to be conducted for the purpose of welfare, as justification. This reinforces the fact that despite welfare measures being formalized on paper, representatives of the state itself fail to see migrant workers as contributing to the regional economy and equally entitled to benefits and welfare; and continues to construct them as a ‘menace’ that must be ‘dealt’ with.

There is a pressing need for more sensitive reporting and proper implementation of welfare measures–without surveillance and stereotyping.


Read more about migrant workers in Kerala, their contribution to the economy, and the difficulties they face: 

Vulnerability of Migrants and Responsiveness of the State: The Case of Unskilled Migrant Workers in Kerala, India

Economic Conditions of the In-Migrant Workers in Kerala: A Case Study in the Trivandrum District

Labour Migration to Kerala: A Study of Tamil Migrant Labourers in Kochi

Radhika M. Chakraborty

Radhika M. Chakraborty

Radhika M Chakraborty has completed a degree in English Literature from Delhi University and a Master's degree in Women's Studies from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her research interests include gender and migration, diasporas, Partition, internal displacement and Sindhi culture.
Radhika M. Chakraborty

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One Response to “Interrogating stereotypes about migrant populations”

  1. Priyesh Das says:

    Hi Radhika, Thank you for big effort and information!

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