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World Kerala Assembly Mutes Voices Of Trafficked Migrants

Despite Rs 4.5 crore allocated for the 2017-18 Loka Kerala Sabha, the Kerala government is being said to have done mere lip service

Manjusha OM and Jumaila Beevi, two Gulf returnees, are residing in the same district where the first two-day Loka Kerala Sabha (World Kerala Assembly) is being held to ensure the involvement of Keralites living abroad in the state’s development and to give due priority for the issues faced by them. Manjusha and Jumaila were domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

They both were duped, trafficked, exploited by their employers and finally after unbearable physical and mental torture had to flee in fear of life. Both of them returned empty handed. And both of them are struggling to pay back the loan they had taken to pay the agent to get the Gulf Job. However, neither of them is aware of a Loka Kerala Sabha being held with much pomp in the same town. “We didn’t hear about it. Is it being held for our welfare,” Jumaila told The Lede.

According to Loka Kerala Sabha’s official statement, the two-day assembly is being held to the assembly as a strong pitch by Kerala to harness emigrant experience to expedite Kerala’s development.

The Sabha is also aimed at providing a forum for the Keralite diaspora to expound on their worries, concerns and aspirations. Its recommendations to the government will be non-binding and advisory in nature.

An exclusive document in possession with The Lede reveals that Rs450 lakhs has been set aside from the state budget. File No Norka-A2/295/2017, reveals that Rs 4.5 lakh has been allocated for 2017-18 to hold the Loka Kerala Sabha annually. According to the document, Rs 20 lakh will be provided to set up office, general administration and coordination. Rs 50 lakh will be set aside for publicity, to set up an interactive website for registration, to prepare phamplets and brouchers. Rs 7 lakh will be set aside for external agency or event management team. Rs3.5 crore will be set aside to hold the event, provide stay for invitees and travel fare for expert speakers. An additional Rs 23 lakh has been set aside for miscellaneous expenses.

Earlier, a statement issued by Kerala Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan said that the Loka Kerala Sabha will also discuss the unique problems faced by the expatriate women community, including nurses and domestic workers.

However, critics of the Loka Kerala Sabha said that none of the Gulf returnees who have faced hurdles in their migrant life have been given a platform to tell their true stories. “When government organises such a kind of platform, they should have been given a platform for real people who have faced real problems in Gulf or other foreign countries. But unfortunately, the invitees are from a different lot,” Mini Mohan, a migrant rights activist and trade unionist, told The Lede.

“This will diminish as a talk shop for the ‘special’ invitees and chance to take selfies,” Mini said adding that tax payers’ money is being wasted.

Manjusha, the Gulf returnee, also was critical of such meetings. “Whatever I understand from you is that it’s a venue for Richie Rich from Gulf and other countries. Let the experts, if there are any, work for the welfare of people like us,” Majusha said.

Inaugurating the Loka Kerala Sabha on January 12, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is also heading the Sabha, said that the ‘Loka Kerala Sabha’ will not only discuss Pravasi (migrant) issues but also focus on the welfare (medical aid, pension schemes, education of children etc) of emigrants returning home along with their economic empowerment and their realignment back into society.

He added that he is looking forward to having in-depth discussions on various issues related to Kerala’s future. “This global assembly will set a platform for faciliating cultural, socio-political and economic co-operation between home and expat malayali community with global exposure,” he added.

The Loka Kerala Sabha, a permanent one, includes 351 members. Among the 351 members, there are 140 MLAs, 20 MPS from the state, special invitees like Keralite businesspeople, social workers, artists and experts from different parts of the world.

Thiruvallam Bhasi, a Keralite migrant who lives in Australia, said that the list was not made in a fair manner. “They were biased in preparing the list. I am residing in Australia for the last 13 years. I have been involved in community activities for a long time. I had high hopes for the meeting. I was left out. The selection was not fair,” Bhasi said. Bhasi is leading a single-man protest in front of the Thiruvananthapuram State Secretariat against the Loka Kerala Sabha.

Bino PP, an Indian resident in Oman for the last three decades, alleged that the people selected as invitees for the Loka Kerala Sabha are regular known faces in Oman. “All are business personalities. All are known faces. They already hold positions on different such platforms. Instead of selecting them, chances could have been given to fresh and genuine people who are working on the ground,” Bino alleged.

He also added that he is doubtful that this meeting is not going to come out with efficient measures to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration, especially for those unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Out of Kerala’s 30 million population, around 10% live overseas and the remittances they send play a pertinent role in the state’s economy.

It has also been considered as one of the primary reasons behind the state’s unusually high ranking on human development indices – which is on par with some of the developed nations despite significant unemployment.

However, oil price crisis in Gulf and Qatar blockade has brought down the number of the Keralites going to Gulf. Additionally, the number of returnees is also going up. According to a survey conducted by Centre for Development Studies, around 2.25 million Malayalis migrated to foreign nations in 2016, a drop of 154,320 from 2014.

Meanwhile, recent reports from the State Level Bankers Committee Meeting revealed that though the total Non-Resident Indian (NRI) deposits in Kerala banks for the 12 month period grew Rs 1,42,668 crore in June 2016 to Rs 1,54,252 crore on June 2017, the rate of growth fell from 22% to 8%.

According to the figures, the total NRI deposits in the 6339 branches of various commercial, scheduled and private banks stood at Rs 1,17,349 crore in June 2015, and grew to Rs 1,42,668 crore in June 2016 and to Rs 1,54,252 crore in June 2017.

As part of the Loka Kerala Sabha Cultural programmes, books exhibition, a flower fest, to name a few have been organised as a part of the Sabha which will be held at the Legislative Assembly Lounge.

There will also be group discussions on sectors like culture, education, industry, tourism and health.
Now it has been decided to hold the Sabha once in two years, but it may change depending on the success and participation at this event.

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