Irresponsible reportage, false hope spark migrant protest in Bandra

Here’s how and why migrants gathered at Bandra, and how the subsequent reportage had subtle communal undertones

Bandra Migrant workers

It all began with a news report by Rahul Kulkarni, the Osmanabad correspondent of the Marathi news channel ABP Majha. Kulkarni had reported on the possibility of trains to take migrants home, based on a letter by A Malleshwar Rao. Dy. Chief Commercial Manager (Passenger Marketing), South Central Railway.

The letter dated April 13, 2020, refers to a proposal for running Jansadharan special trains to clear stranded passengers and migrant labour, subject to a critical analysis of the number of such people by senior Divisional Commercial Managers. It also called for a detailed proposal with clear stations of origin and destinations. The letter may be read here:


ABP Majha’s news report, tweeted by NCP leader Nawab Malik, may be viewed here:



What is noteworthy, is that the proposal was just in the discussion stage and the letter by the railway official clearly asked for critical analysis of the issue and clarity on what routes should be served. But the reportage said that trains would run in all divisions, giving stranded migrants false hope.

Boulevard of broken dreams

These migrants have been stuck in big cities facing many challenges including the loss of jobs and therefore a source of income, inability to pay rent and a strong sense of alienation that grows as the gulf between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ widens. The ‘haves’ are insulated from the impact of the lockdown owing to varying degrees of privilege. The ‘have-nots’ have been forced into homelessness and suffer the indignity of surviving on alms and aid.

The dignity and pride of the poor isn’t just overlooked, but often crushed under these circumstances. Is it not understandable that therefore these migrants might feel more comfortable going back to their native villages where at least they have roof over their heads and can depend on their own farms produce that their extended families grow on their small tracts of land. Though the plight of marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers has been exacerbated under the lockdown, the relative dignity of life in the village, especially surrounded by a support system of their own family, friends and neighbours, offers a comfort to these migrants and sundry ‘have-nots’, that the ‘haves’ will never understand.

The poor, the marginalized and the dispossessed would rather starve and spend their last days together with their families, than squat with their arms outstretched and depend on the kindness of strangers along the fancy city boulevard of broken dreams.

False hope, panic and chaos

Thus, when news came that there was a way back home, false hope spread like wildfire and fanning the flames, perhaps inadvertently, was this video posted by Vinay Dubey on his social media on April 9, 2020, speaking about transportation services to take migrants back to their villages:



In the video, Dubey, who heads the Uttar Bharatiya Mahapanchayat, says his team has organized 40 buses to take migrants home. He says, “If the lockdown ends on April 14, then on the morning of April 15, my team has arranged for 40 buses to take migrants back to their villages. We will not charge the labourers a single penny for this service.” He urges his viewers to spread the word among migrants hailing from UP, Bihar, WB, MP and Chhattisgarh.

But Dubey didn’t stop there. In yet another video uploaded on Facebook, Dubey criticizes the unlanned lockdown and its impact on stranded migrant labourers. He says, “I have not yet received any permission to use the 40 buses I had arranged for to take migrants back home. Now I urge the central and state government to atleast take two to three days after the lockdown ends on April 14, to arrange trains from Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and other places in Maharashtra to take migrants home to their villages in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.” He added, “It is okay to quarantine these people for 14 days outside their villages in hospitals, schools or other quarantine facilities, but please send them home lest they die of starvation before Corona.”

But the most chilling part of this video was how he issued an ultimatum threatening to go on a pad-yatra with lakhs of migrants from April 20, should the government fail to provide a solution. “Just like migrants in Delhi were forced to walk home, even migrants in Maharashtra have no other option but to walk to our villages.”

The video may be viewed here:

Dubey has a following of over 2,20,000 people on Facebook and over 5,000 on Twitter.

Meanwhile, after the Prime Minister announced an extension of the lockdown till May 3, confusion and chaos ensued. Shortly after 3 PM, migrant workers began gathering outside Bandra railway station. Hailing mostly from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, these men and women just wanted to go home, but became agitated at the prospect of being stuck in cities that virtually made survival prohibitively expensive. The crowd of over 1,000 people grew restive and threw caution to the wind as social distancing went for a toss and the migrants jostled together trying to have their voices heard.

While police reached the spot and tried to control the crowd, the anguish of the stranded migrants was palpable and boiled over as police resorted to a lathi charge, adding insult to injury. A similar migrant protest was reported from Surat in Gujarat.

Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray summed it up in this series of tweets:



Adding to the confusion was the fact that online ticket purchases had not been suspended by the railways  for travel after April 14. Though it was later reported that the fares would be refunded, it was too little too late.

Action against Kulkarni and Dubey

The police have booked both, ABP News reporter Rahul Kulkarni and Uttar Bharatiya Mahapanchayat leader Vinay Dubey for spreading false information that led to the chaos in Bandra. Kulkarni was arrested from his home in Osmanabad and has been charged under Sections 269, 270, 505(b), 188, and 117 of the Indian Penal Code, as well as Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act.

Dubey was arrested by the Navi Mumbai police on Tuesday night and handed over to the Mumbai Police. He has been charged with Section 117, 153 A, 188, 269, 270 and 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act. 

Did ABP News add a communal flavor to reportage?

But things got uglier as the crisis in Bandra unfolded. In the following video from ABP News, interestingly the Hindi news channel from the same network as ABP Majha, the anchor can be heard constantly asking about the significance of the crowd gathering next to Jama Masjid outside Bandra railway station, though the reporter clearly says that the people are migrants who live in the shanty-towns and slums nearby.



The anchor then goes on to ask how the protesters were organized to gather at the same location, suggesting whatsapp messages or pamphlet distribution might have played a role. Throughout the program the insinuation is that the protest was planned and organized, rather than a spontaneous gathering of anguished migrants. The anchor also keeps mentioning Jama Masjid as the location of the protest, thereby making subtle communal allegations that are though never directly put into words. The fact that the masjid stands at the location is purely incidental is never brought up, which makes one wonder if the channel deliberately gave the reportage of the crisis a communal hue.



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