Migrant Workers and the Daily Wage Earners Facing the Brunt of Lock-Down
The news channels have been running stories on Coronavirus ever since, you know! Every other day, we have a new problem, a new number or something that adds to this Pandora’s box. For the most part of the day at home, the TV is switched on. Sometimes there’s a movie playing. Otherwise, it’s the news channel running a new ‘Breaking news’. After PM Modi announced the country-wide lock down, we had to deal not only with Coronavirus, but with some really complicated issues over the next few days.
India has lots of workers who move from rural areas to the Urban areas in search of jobs. The requirements of these migrant workers are mostly in, but not limited to the construction sector, domestic work, textile, brick kiln, mines and quarries, and agriculture. PM Modi’s announcement gave only 4 hours of notice for the nation. Most of the people who were away from their families couldn’t do anything to get back to them. These are scary times and when there’s a disease doing the rounds, you want to be with your family!
The migrant workers from other States all over the country were stranded. Some of them had booked train tickets for or after 25th and now they couldn’t go home because all the trains had been cancelled. Due to the lock-down, they didn’t have work, they couldn’t go home, a virus was wreaking havoc and they didn’t even know when they could meet their family. Many of them were seen walking to their villages; we are talking about people who are thousands of miles away from their homes. Some of them dropped dead due to weakness and hunger. With no restaurants or transportation, it would be impossible for them to reach their villages safely. These people aren’t as susceptible to die from virus as they’re from hunger. No arrangements had been made by the Government for those who survived on daily wages.
Following this, the UP government arranged buses to carry the stranded migrant workers home. On the said day, thousands of these workers were flocking in Delhi bus stand. The irony being, a scenario such as this wherein a huge number of people come together is what the government wanted to avoid in the first place. In my opinion, a sudden lock-down was the need of the hour. If say, a 48 hours’ notice was given, even the privileged among us would have decided to run to our homes when it wasn’t an absolute necessity. This would have aggravated the spread of virus. However, it could have been better planned and implemented so as to make the lives of daily wage earners easier. Eventually, no plan would be perfect. There will always be a portion of these people who’d have just walked home. But through planning, a lot of suffering and confusion could have been reduced.
In Kerala, lots of migrant workers took to the streets in Paippad, Kottayam district, defying the lock-down as they wanted to go home. The Police tried to calm the crowd and begged them to disperse as forming groups during these times were extremely dangerous. Since UP Government had arranged buses for the migrant workers, they expected the same from Kerala which wasn’t practical or safe. Most of these laborers were from Assam and West Bengal, and Kerala being the Southern-most state, is miles away unlike UP. The crowd dispersed after they were promised free food and accommodation.
While their plight is understandable, a protest like this is careless on so many levels as the whole country is trying to avoid contact between people and these workers are doing precisely that! A vile way to get what they want, while risking thousands of lives. The protests resurfaced again as the workers weren’t satisfied with the food provided. They wanted North Indian food and this was agreed as well. I have stayed in PGs and Hostels. I paid for my food and even then, I have never complained about the menu. I never demanded for my regional food.
People might argue that they have the right to ask for what they want. But I understand that this is a crisis – one that could kill everyone of us. The Government and the essential services are risking their lives to fight it. There are other daily wage earners who don’t even have this option and HAVE to find work somehow lest they die of hunger. That’s not the case with these migrant workers. Their every demand has been met and they are getting free food and accommodation while all they are being asked is to stay put. Even after this, if they are causing trouble about food, it either means that they lack the common sense to understand the seriousness of the situation or there’s something else at play!
Featured Image Courtesy – Frontline