by Anusha Sooriyan
North-East India is the most beautiful region of the country with diverse ethno-cultural mix and social relations, yet remains the least explored and appreciated. The media portrays a sorrow picture of the seven states i.e. ambushes, insurgency, disaster, and similar events. But one is unaware of the life beyond the image created by the media; i.e. the beautiful landscape, modern family structures, ethnic and cultural differences from one tribe to the other, preferences in music and other art etc. The people of northeast yearn to be recognized as citizens of India and be treated as any other Indian from other regions.
The COVID pandemic has further broadened the divide between the region and the so called ‘Indian heartland’. The Northeast Region contributes a large part of India’s migratory workforce because of inconsistent socio-economic development. The graph below represents the number of migrant labourers belonging to Northeast India stranded across the country. (Sharma, 2020)
The unemployment ratio of the region has witnessed several lows since the national lockdowns. According to the April report by Centre for Monitoring Economy (CMIE), Tripura saw a dramatic rise in the unemployment rate nearing 41.2%. Assam stood at 11.1%, Meghalaya at 10% whereas, the small state of Sikkim ranked second under the lowest unemployment record at 2.3%. (CMIE, 2020)
Most of the workers from the north-eastern states were potentially looking at a long period of unemployment. According to financial experts and various employment reports, the places where they work includes movie theatres, shopping malls, restaurants, bars, spas and hotels, which are the hardest hit industries post COVID-19. (Clooney, 2020) People are reluctant to go for a movie or go for a massage today due to fear and physical distancing. This would essentially mean that migrants are going to lose their daily wage, employment status and have to head back to their respective home states.
However, in the recent months there has been a slight decline in this percentage due to relaxation of lockdown norms and the returning migrants. Looking closer at state-wise data, Nagaland has seen a spike in cases of Covid after the month of May, essentially due to the opening of inter-state borders which has led to returning of migrant workers in a phased manner. The Nagaland Government had granted financial aid to those who chose not to return. Also the state ramped up health infrastructure, especially establishing Biosafety level testing labs for local Covid testing (earlier the testing samples were transported to Manipur or Assam).
Recently, the Nagaland Government has started Livelihood schemes for the migrant returnees, in order to re-skill them and is issuing grants for individual entrepreneurial ventures. The Commissioner of Department of Industries and Commerce, Kekhrievor Kevichusa spoke to the Indian Express and said, “We will be helping candidates develop skills in 20-odd sectors which are important in Nagaland. Then, we will provide seed money to say 100-odd individuals or more, as per our funds. The upper limit of our grants will be Rs 2 lakh.” (Saha, 2020) The sectors include micro-services — courier services, film production and its related work, computer repair, food processing; and manufacturing.
Similar initiatives have been taken by the Arunachal Government for the welfare of migrant workers who were stranded. They decided to disburse an amount of Rs 3,500 each to all such persons, who are stranded in various parts of the country, for sustenance during the lockdown period from the Chief Ministers Relief Fund (CMRF). The government has also created a UPI directory to register the stranded people in it for evaluated and regulated reach. Yet reports of migrants being unaware of the aid and unable to access the portal have surfaced in various platforms.
Clooney, K. (2020). Migrants from the northeast are stuck between hostile employers and unemployment at home. The Caravan
CMIE. (2020). India's unemployment rate shoots to 23.5% in April: CMIE. Buisness Today.
Saha, A. (2020, October 3). Nagaland launches livelihood generation scheme for returning migrant workers. Indian Express.
Sharma, N. (2020). 26 lakh migrant labourers stranded across 33 states: Preliminary govt data. Economic Times.