Chennai’s Guru Nanak College Makes Room for 500 Migrant Labourers

"“No, not migrant workers. They’re our guests. We don’t call them migrant workers.”" - Manjit Singh Nayyar, General Secretary, Guru Nanak Educational Society.

From 29 March 2020, close to 500 migrant labourers from across the country have made Chennai's Guru Nanak college their home. The classrooms have become their living-cum-bedrooms. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and some snacks in between, are a community affair.

From physical training and exercises and yoga in the morning, to cultural events and movie screenings in the evening, life for the stranded migrant labourer is as comfortable as possible. Except for homesickness, there's nothing that the guests complain about.

The Guru Nanak college premises currently houses the largest gathering of stranded migrant labourers in the city. It is the ONLY organisation in the city, to provide food, shelter and clothing to migrant labourers at such a large scale.

While the medical team, maintenance staff and security are provided by the government, everything else is taken care of by the college trust and volunteers who donate their time, money and resources.

The entire exercise is being handled by Manjit Singh Nayyar, General Secretary of Guru Nanak Educational Society, and his team of volunteers; Sanjay Bhansali (Area Commander, north), Sugumar (Area Commander, south), Umapathy Chandrasekar (Area Commander, west), Gyani Satpal Singh ji (in house priest), Navjeet Singh (estate in charge).


A migrant labourer, at the Guru Nanak college.

Currently, the college is home to a little under 500 migrant labourers from Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. The college also provides food (thrice a day) to around 25 carpenter labourers from Bihar, living near the college, who are currently without a job.

Classroom with social distancing.

Each classroom houses fifteen guests, all of who are seated while maintaining social distancing. A total of 25 classrooms have been occupied so far.

Makeshift clinics organised by the government on campus.

Makeshift clinics not only provide basic treatment and first aid to the guests, but have also conducted screenings and tests for COVID-19.

A sumtuous meal, thrice a day.

Meals on campus comprise breakfast (tea, buns, and an egg – on every third day), lunch (rice, rotis, curd and a vegetable dish), evening tea with snacks, and dinner (rice and vegetables).

TN CM Edappadi Palaniswamy serves lunch at the college.

Daily Routine

Physical training and exercises.

Breakfast is at 7:30am.

Lunch is at 11:30am.

By 4:30pm everyone is asked to come to the grounds. Yoga, physical training and exercises are conducted to keep the guests in shape.

From 5:30pm, cultural activities, music, singing and other performances by the guests are encouraged.

Dinner is at 7:30pm.

Occasionally, film screenings are also held.

A migrant labourer performing a song in the evening at the Guru Nanak college, to the rest of the stranded workers.
Migrant labourers having lunch under the canopy, at the Guru Nanak college.

The philosophy of the college is simple; to treat the stranded migrant labourers as their guests. This was decided by the end of March, when the college authorities were approached by the DGP and the government officials, asking if they could shoulder the responsibility.

To this end, all possible facilities are extended to the guests. Everyday, in the evening, the labourers gather within the gurudwara on campus, and offer prayers, in unison with the priest.

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