Kerala’s Onam thanksgiving for migrants

By Arvind Padmanabhan, IANS,

Thiruvananthapuram : At a time when people from the northeast have been fleeing cities like Pune, Bangalore and Chennai fearing reprisal over violence against Muslims in Assam, the Kerala government has taken a reassuring decision to thank migrants in a unique way, coinciding with the festival of Onam.

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Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has directed the state’s labour department to distribute on Saturday what he calls an “Onam Kit” for free to every migrant worker, containing various food articles, in a gesture not just to assure them they were safe in his state, but also to thank them for their contributions.

“All migrants are our brothers and sisters. We have given a clear message that every migrant worker is safe in Kerala. We have also not allowed miscreants or anti-social element to create trouble for these people,” Chandy said.

“Kerala needs their services in agriculture, construction, tourism, hotels and IT. So, as a gesture of goodwill, we have decided we will distribute Onam kits to all of them on Sturday. It will have everything for a good meal like rice, oil and sugar,” Chandy told IANS here.

The move also comes just ahead of a global conclave called “Emerging Kerala” to be hosted in Kochi next month by the government to showcase the state as an investment destination with much potential during which officials want to remove the wrong perception about labour issues.

According to the chief minister, each Onam kit will cost the state exchequer around Rs.150 since the articles are being bought in bulk. Otherwise, it can cost around Rs.225-Rs.250 in the open market. Around Rs.10 crore has been already sanctioned for the scheme, which can serve 800,000 people.

Onam is Kerala’s main festival, celebrated by all communities, marking the triumph of Lord Vishnu, who took the form of a short Brahmin, Vamana, to tame the ego and might of king Mahabali, who was otherwise loved by his subjects. Onam marks the yearly sojourn of Mahabali to the state.

Going beyond the Onam kit, Chief Minister Chandy said he has also asked the labour department to examine how the migrant workers to Kerala can also be given access to welfare schemes that are otherwise available to ordinary residents.

He said officers of the labour department are also being periodically sent to inspect the living conditions of migrant labourers, whom Kerala sees as important contributors to the state’s growth and prosperity.

“During these inspections, there were some complaints like rooms are very small, the sanitation is poor, quality of food is not good and things like that on living conditions. We have taken action wherever required and these people are very happy,” Chandy said.

(Arvind Padmanabhan can be contacted at [email protected])