Kerala’s Nirbhaya case forces rethink on reliance on Bangladeshi migrants


The victim

The latest horror story to come out of Kerala has forced residents in this largely peaceful state to rethink their reliance on migrants — mostly from Bangladesh — for carrying out labour-intensive projects.

Over the last five days, gruesome details have emerged about how a law student was raped, tortured and killed in the afternoon right inside her home.


The body of the girl, Jisha, was found on April 28. Her injuries totalled 38, including some very deep bites that penetrated the flesh considerably. Both her shoulders were broken. A rod was used to penetrate her reproductive organ with such force that her intestines were spilled out, drawing parallel’s to the disturbingly similar Nirbhaya rape case that happened in Delhi.

Though Kerala’s attitude towards women is more conservative than all the surrounding states and most of India, the state has never witnessed a rape and murder case with such brutal aspects.

The gory and unprecedented details of the crime have created outrage among the population.


The brutal nature of the crime, and it’s location in Perumbavoor — an area known for housing a large number of Bangladeshi and other out-of-state laborers, has led to suspicions about the involvement of migrant laborers in the act.

Over the last 5 years, the south-Indian state has started to rely more and more on laborers from outside the state. Though about 70% of these labourers claim to be ‘Bengalis’, most of them claim to be coming from Assam.

Perumbavoor is on the rural hinterlands of Ernakulam, Kerala’s biggest city. With most Malayalis moving on to white collar jobs or doing blue-collar jobs in the Middle East, the state’s industries — especially construction and hotels — have had to import their labor in recent years.

People come from Assam, Nepal, Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa to work in Kerala, where a manual labourer is paid Rs 850 per day.

Perumbavoor, due to its location, served as a preferred residential location for many of these laborers.


However, these laborers are forced to live in ‘labor camps’ and single rooms with very basic amenities and shared toilets. In a state known for its cleanliness, the labour camps provide a visible contrast with its stagnant pools of dirty water and swarming mosquitoes.

Another big problem faced by the labourers is access to safe sex. Forced to live in camps with shared rooms, many have to go without sex for weeks and months, leading to psychological and social problems.

On the other hand, Kerala has the highest level of female literacy in India, and women routinely travel alone and do not think twice about walking alone on a deserted road. This leads to a kind of ‘clash of cultures’ as many of the labourers come from cultures where women are secluded and do not enjoy the kind of freedom that Malayali women are used to. In some ways, the problems are similar to that faced by women in Germany and other European countries after large-scale migration of a predominantly male population from the Middle East.


According to the New Indian Express, the Kerala Police have registered 323 incidents of crimes involving migrant labourers in the last five years.

In the Ernakulam Rural police station limits — of which Perumbavoor forms a part — there have been 38 murders in the last five years. Out of these, at least 32 are directly or indirectly linked to migrant labourers, the New Indian Express said.


Jisha lived in a modest house with an easy-to-break-down door. The house was constructed earlier this year by labourers, some of whom were from outside the state.

The police found that the labourers continued to make calls to Jisha’s mobile phone in February, well after the construction was completed.

The police have arrested two migrant laborers including one who claims to be from Murshidabad (on India’s border with Bangladesh) — as well as others locals — in its hunt for clues. However, it is yet to make any substantial breakthrough in the case.

The police have come under criticism for trying to cover up the case.

No information about the incident was given to the media or to various statutory bodies that have to be informed if murders and atrocities are committed against Dalits, who enjoy special protection under the constitution as they have historically been targeted by other groups for exploitation and discrimination.

News about the case leaked after a policeman involved in the case described the horrendous details to his family, which included a girl who was studying in the same law college where Jisha was also pursuing her degree in law.

The girl then informed her college-mates who informed the media around five days after the incident took place. They also successfully mobilized public opinion using social media.

The Congress-led government has been accused to trying to brush the incident under the carpet so that it will not affect the mood of the electorate. The state will go to the polls to select a new government in less than three weeks.