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Community Media Spurs Collective Action

Ganesh Mahto was one of the many unregistered internal migrants in India who died under ‘unnatural circumstances’ in 2013. Except his story was picked up and shared over Mobile Vaani (MV), causing a cascade of events that resulted in a reformation of migrant registration systems across Jharkand.

THE CHALLENGE

India has approximately 309 million internal migrants (as of 2011). These are individuals residing in a place different from that of their birth. A large proportion of these marginalized individuals are from disadvantaged communities in the state of Jharkand, who move to big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata in search of better economic opportunities.

Despite the fact that roughly three out of ten people in India are internal migrants, existing policies of the Indian state fail in properly protecting the rights of this vulnerable group.

This is because even when legal protection is provided it hinges upon migrants being registered at both their home and new location. Unfortunately most migrants are unaware of this, as well as the fact that they have certain entitlements if they are hurt or harmed while a migrant.

 

THE PROCESS

To increase awareness about migrant rights, MV held an interview with Sunil Barnwal from the Labour commission. He spoke about who migrant workers are and what entitlements they can demand from the government. He also encouraged them to not be afraid in demanding their rights from authorities.

Soon after this programme was broadcasted, a friend recorded a story about a man called Ganesh on MV. Ganesh, the only earning member of his family had travelled from his village in Giridih district in Jharkand to Delhi to work as a cook and died under unnatural circumstances while in Delhi. His family were devastated by his loss, worried about what would happen to them now and wondering why they had not been able to receive any benefits from the government. Volunteers at Gram Vaani sent a letter describing the story along with an audio clip of the report recorded over the network to the Labour Commission.

After several follow-ups by Mobile Vaani, the Indian Labor Commission sent a letter to local offices ordering them to thoroughly investigate this case. Upon investigation it was found that that since Ganesh was an unregistered migrant his family could not legally avail of any compensation. However, due to public interest in the case the BDO (Block Divisional Officer) took matters into his own hands and provided ration cards to the family and waived the college tuition fees for Ganesh’s son.

 

THE RESULT

The story does not end with Ganesh – after his story was aired hundreds of similar tales began being appearing on MV. Almost all of them were about unregistered migrants who commented on the lack of facilities in their local panchayats (village councils) to complete registration before leaving as migrants. So MV volunteers took matters into their own hands and reached out to the Labour Department again prompting a drive to train people at the panchayat centres to register migrants. Volunteers at MV announced the dates of these trainings over our networks to make sure people knew that now they could hold the system accountable and demand migrant rights.

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