Surat’s Diamond & Textile Industry a Casualty of Migrant Exodus

As the coronavirus pandemic engulfs the country, Surat’s migrant workers are stuck in limbo.

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4 min read

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam

“We have rice, but no gas. Gas is over. There is no dal or anything to cook it. We are left with only rice. There is no flour.”

Govind, who does not have a job or money to feed himself anymore, is a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh. He recently moved to Surat for work, but his unit shut down within two days of him starting.

His employer says that he had no option but to shut the unit because of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. “I asked my employer for some money, but he said that he has gone back to his native home and the banks there are shut, and so he does not have any money to pay me. He is making excuses,” Govind says. He adds that he had come to Surat to earn extra money so that he could contribute to his sister’s wedding.


‘Didn’t Come to Surat to Die of Hunger?’

Govind is now jobless and facing an uncertain future.

“Did we come here to die of hunger? Will go back to our village and practise farming. We will survive there but I will not come back to Surat.”
Govind Kumar, Textile Industry Migrant Worker

Migrant workers who work in Surat’s diamond, textiles and construction industry are left with no food, no work and or shelter. Within a few hours, they found themselves unemployed after Prime Minster Narendra Modi announced the complete lockdown across the country for 21 days. Little did these workers know that the janata curfew would extend for so long that they’d lose their livelihoods.

Most decided to rush back to their native villages, their safe havens. But by then, inter-state and intra-state public transport in most states had stopped. Railways too had stopped trains from running. With little or no time in hand, migrants workers either started walking to their homes or were left stranded in the city.

The situation with those working in the diamond, textile and construction industry in Surat is similar. While those who work in the diamond industry managed to load themselves in trucks and leave for their native village in Gujarat's Saurashtra, thousands of textile and construction workers who are from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other states were left stranded because they could not cross the sealed state borders. In fact, a few who tried to cross the border on foot were sent back.

“We tried our best to leave, we walked and covered a huge distance but we were forced to return. Cops hit us and asked us to go back and said that we could not go back to our villages.”
Ramesh Kumar, Textile Industry Migrant Worker

To add to this misery, he has not been able to eat for the last three days. “Food is a big problem for us. I got proper food after three days today, My family has been calling me and crying but what do I do? I am trying so hard to go but just am unable to. What option to I have?” Ramesh says.

“Have been surviving on biscuits for the last 3 days.”

No Food, No Money, No Shelter

Santosh, who works in the diamond industry says, “There is no work, no food and no
proper shelter. There are only problems in our life now.” He adds,

“There is nothing in my hands, what will I do if I don’t get paid?  We are workers.”

Sandeep, a fellow migrant worker, thought of going home but he was told that there will be a one-day lockdown. “Nobody told us that it would continue for this long. Had we known, we would have left on time,” he says.

Bhim, who hails from Nepal, says that he has no money left and will not go back unless his payment is cleared. His salary for the last 10 days is pending. He has been told that he will get paid after the lockdown ends.

‘How Will the Industry Function?’

Ashish Bhadyadra, the Vice President of Ratna Kalakar Vikas Sangh (workers’ body), says that 20% of the workers in the entire industry have left for their hometowns. ‘They just left however they could manage. Some of them walked the entire distance and some in their bikes.”

He said that the smaller units (diamond factories) could not credit salaries to the workers due to the immediate lockdown. They could not clear workers’ payments or make any arrangement for the survival of diamond workers.


‘Workers Have Been Paid’

However, Damji Mavani, the Vice President of Surat Diamond Association, claims.

“In the diamond industry, those who were working in the functional units have been paid. The ones who were not paid earlier are being paid now. Those who have left Surat for their hometowns, they will soon return after the lockdown ends. Those who have still not paid salaries, Surat Diamond Association appeals them to credit them as soon as possible.” 

Bhadyadra’s concern is as to how the diamond industry will function once the lockdown ends because the workers won’t be able to return immediately. He points out that diamonds are a luxurious commodity and people will not be keen on buying them in such times, affecting the entire industry. He advises to pay the workers so that they stay in the city and can resume work immediately.

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