Kerala landslide: Dalit migrant workers at receiving end, 23 died, 43 feared trapped

At least 23 people have been killed and around 43 others feared trapped under the debris after a landslide triggered by heavy rains flattened a row of dwelling units of tea estate workers at Pettimudi in this high-range district Idukki in Kerala early Friday.

A massive search operation, using man and machine, is underway on Saturday to find missing people as soon as possible, local authority said.

About 83 people are suspected to have been trapped under the debris. Two NDRF teams had reached Pettimudy on Friday evening and the search operation resumed on Saturday morning, NDRF chief Rekha Nambiar told Mathrubhumi.

Most of the people are plantation workers and from neighboring Tamil Nadu.

The incident in Idukki district happened in the early hours of Friday. Communication links to the area have been affected as the power lines have snapped in the rains.

The lane houses (layams) of plantation workers took the brunt of the landslideĀ in the Pettimudi plantation division. There were 84 persons living in lane houses.

Cooking utensils buried in mud, asbestos and tin sheets strewn around were all there to be seen at the area, which was the habitation of around 80 odd workers at the picturesque area near a tea plantation, about 30 kms from the tourist town of Munnar, according to Manorama report.

“Tea plantation workers throughout the country form the most vulnerable section of the informal economy both in terms of bargaining power and wages among other things. These workers in KDHPL are mainly Dalit migrant women from Tamil Nadu, coming from an intersection that makes their life and livelihood conditions precarious which intensified in the wake of COVID19. Plantation Labour Act 1951 makes it mandatory for the employer to provide accommodation, healthcare facilities, etc to these workers but several reports have highlighted that in order to cut production costs, capitalists rarely spend efficiently,” Aparna, activist and student at TISS, Mumbai wrote on Facebook.

“These workers are made to live near the tea plantations in overcrowded ghettos with bare minimum facilities, no clean water, or proper health care system in place. The plantation labor unions usually work in collaboration with the employers and political parties sidelining the issues of these workers which has been called out by the workers themselves on several occasions. With the history and contemporary socio-economic realities of these plantation workers, it becomes important to bring this tragedy in Kerala at the forefront along with the historical oppression that these workers have been facing since British Raj,” she added.

The torrential downpour and landslides have been wreaking havoc across Kerala in the past two days.