During these times of pandemic, we get to see heart-wrenching pictures of migrant workers who were forced to travel thousands of miles devoid of proper food and water almost every day.
These migrant workers are the ones who drained themselves, nurtured our society with their sweat and blood, working hard for the much needed development of the country. But the biggest irony is that when these nation-builders sought help from the government in their desperate effort to reach their own homes, what the government did has been a naught. Rather it turned a blind eye to these poor migrants barest minimum need of food and accommodation, at the very locations they toiled day in and day out, till the last day when a totally unplanned lockdown was forced with just 4 hours notice.
Much of the media (sarcastically called the godi media or lap media for doing the bidding of the govt in power) of the country was never really interested in voicing the migrant workers’ concerns. They instead went about simply printing lengthy features with disturbing photographs to catch eyeballs.
What we see in our country today is the deplorable condition of the migrant workers and their families who are crumbling of fatigue, fighting hunger and struggling to make both ends meet.
If only the Central government had come up with a plan foreseeing the consequences of the pandemic, this plight would not have happened. A sad fact is that our government do not have the necessary information regarding all the migrant workers of the country.
Glimpses Of Migrant Workers & Labourers, desperately trying to reach home amid lockdown
As per the last Census reports, the Central Government claims of having four crore migrant workers in the country. However, according to the statistics released by the Overseas Development Institute, India houses around ten crore migrant workers. Whatever be the numbers, the reality is, in this time of distress, the government failed to instill in our workers and labourers, the confidence that India is a nation where everyone can survive irrespective of the social and economic divide. What they needed in this hour was not mercy, but basic amenities to carry their lives forward.
This crisis necessitates the need for a separate Ministry that will address the issues related to our immigrant workers. During the reign of UPA government, under Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Prime Ministership, an effective plan for a Ministry for non-resident migrants was formulated to address the concerns faced by the migrant population outside India. To an extent, this plan helped curtail many of their problems.
Rather than incorporating a branch for the domestic migrant workers under the same ministry, the blunder that the NDA government did was to abolish the whole Ministry altogether.
We need to reminisce here, of how during A.K. Antony’s term as Chief Minister of Kerala, he brought these two departments together and formed a Ministry of Non-resident Affairs. But like the NDA government, the Left-led government of Kerala also decided that a separate ministry is not needed for the migrant workers.
It is high time that the Central government pay some attention to the migrants of the nation. It is equally important to execute a plan to form a complete database of all the migrant workers of the country. It was nothing but indifference shown to them when the Prime Minister seldom mentioned anything about the lives of daily wage labourers and migrant workers when he declared complete lockdown in the country.
Many of these labourers and workers had left their hometowns for cities, forced by their failure to find jobs near their homes. Most of them survived on daily wages. Currently, what they are facing is discrimination unheard. Right from the night, the Prime Minister hurriedly imposed the lockdown; they started to leave Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata – their cities of hope. They were aware that they could not survive in those big cities with nothing in their hands. They were trying to return to their homes where they had a family, where they do not have to give rent and chances of getting food were a fraction more.
However, what they came across was ill fate. Since all means of transport, including trains, buses and taxis came to a standstill, they ran out of ways to travel. Many were trapped for days in railway stations. The police midway caught the few who tried to cross the border hiding in container trucks. Therefore, they chose to walk on foot. What later we saw was the poignant photographs of many of them falling dead on their way due to accident, heat, fatigue and hunger.
In this time of Covid19 pandemic, the government failed to come up with proper decisions and plans for these migrant population. There were reports from various parts of the country where they even protested, simply demanding help to return to their villages and homelands. However they were brutally thrashed and put down by the police only to be driven off roads, while their problems persisted and grew harsher, every passing day.
Since we so far have not been able to come up with a fool proof method to tackle Covid19, it is no wonder that there is a large possibility of the economy to delve deep into crisis.
According to the calculations put forth by a think tank (CMIE), from March to April, the unemployment rate has come to 27.1%. That is, four out of every one person has lost the job in the last two months, which means, around 114 million jobs have gone astray. Also, comparative studies around GDP rates show that India’s economy has shrunk to 15% from its annual scale.
Post partition, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited refugee camps daily. One day, when he visited a camp a woman held his collar and asked, “What did I gain from this freedom?” To this Nehru’s cool reply was, “The freedom to ask questions by holding your Prime Minister’s shirt collar for your answers.”
But, 72 years after independence, the plight of the migrant workers go unaddressed and unseen where they are not even given a chance to raise questions to even the govt officials, leave alone the ministers.
It is at this juncture, we see Rahul Gandhi sitting and engaging in conversations with them on the national highways, while they were on their way to their villages. The people who mock and criticize this act consciously forget that Narendra Modi never cared about these migrant workers.
In his detailed conversation with the migrant workers, including both women and children, Rahul Gandhi heard and pondered over their worries and concerns. He, not only just offered them food and water, but helped them reach their far off destinations in vehicles.
Other than providing money through bank loans, Rahul Gandhi demanded the government should look into providing them with 7500 rupees that will help cater to their immediate survival needs.
Even now, when those disturbing pictures of migrant labourers travelling to their homes continue circulating over the media, if the government is callous enough to continue to stay indifferent and does not take adequate relief measures, there is no doubt that these photographs are going to haunt the Prime Minister and his government at all times to come.