Has India failed its Migrants?
“We labourers have no life. We are just a cog in the wheel, spinning continuously until we run out of life.” This is the statement of a weeping migrant worker from Bihar, Ramkumar Pandit, who was working at a construction site in Delhi before he lost job to the lockdown. Desperately trying to reach his village in Bihar, about 1500 km from Delhi to see his dying 1 year old son before it was too late. He couldn’t. Stopped at the Delhi border and nowhere to go he wept relentlessly until a journalist bought him a ticket of Shramik express to Bihar. Still at quarantine center just outside his village, he could not see his son for the last time.
We failed Ramkumar Pandit.
This is just one of the thousands of stories of migrant workers in India who are desperately seeking to reach their native, on roads, with no respite anywhere. They are stuck in a no man’s zone for migrants, nowhere to go.
Walking thousands of kilometres in the scorching sun, with no food and water, only to get beaten up at borders by police. The walking class seems to be abandoned by India. “We poor have no country”, said another helpless worker.
Never have a large group of people been any more thankless to a small group of people who have made their highways and houses.
Processions are common in India – mournful, celebrating or political in nature. The destination of these processions is the journey itself. It doesn’t matter to the crowd, which is the essence of procession, what is the end point, it is just there. But this procession, of migrant workers, is self-rescuing with a purposed destination. These walking class have taken up this life-saving fight to reach their terminal through a terrible but hopeful journey.
Hundreds of migrant workers have already succumbed in this journey – ran over by train, crushed by trucks and some gave up to the nature.
Have we ever before given any heed to the plight of workers in our country? Just now, few of us, given the luxury of time, are trying to know more about them – with just a tad bit of inclination.
The Central and State governments claimed to have made provisions for these travelers, but the lack of communication and proper instructions at the right time created a ruckus in Delhi initially, and now pan India.
Shramik express are running but no provision to bring these workers to the stations and lack of proper guidelines has let the confusion ensue with thousands on the roads tracking their way to the final destination.
Where did we go wrong?
“Stitch in time saves nine”. This proverb holds true here as well. Timely help to these workers could have saved the confusion and their lives. Loosing jobs overnight as the lockdown came into effect from March 25, no food or shelter and waiting for help from authorities made the migrants feel helpless. They decided to walk, knowing the repurcussions, but nothing to lose. The longer they delay the decision to stay or leave will make it tougher in case help doesn’t arrive in time.
The recently announced relief package by Prime Minister might be too late to reach the workers.
Karnataka government refused to let go their workers insight of the industries reopening. But resumed the trains after the decision makers decided otherwise.
These workers don’t mind the economy, what they are worried about is whether their kids would get food tomorrow or whether they will reach their home safely, in time.
Industries are worried of the loss they would incur if these workers won’t return to work. Contemplating of a ‘disciplinary action’ against those workers who don’t come back at a specified time by some states is not the respect these workers deserve, nor the best way to reestablish lost trust.
Trust deficit is a real thing that these migrants have against India – government and the privileged class alike. Sitting in the luxury of our home, we can just assume the pain migrant workers are going through. All they need is food, shelter and to reach their home.
Time to contemplate what wrong we did to the essence of worker class of India. We need to act on the plight of migrants before it is too late.