Jharkhand Nagrik Prayas narrates the tale of a migrant worker stranded in Mumbai

Cramped in shelters, with no money and meagre food, migrants have become collateral damage amid the coronavirus outbreak

Migrant workers

Migrant workers in India have, for over a month now, been caught in the net of dual challenges. One is the threat and risk of catching the coronavirus infection and second, surviving the hunger-demic unleashed by the lockdown to curb the community transmission of the virus.

The psycho-social impact of the now extended lockdown on the migrant population has been nothing short of dreadful. Cramped in shelters forced to violate the norms of social distancing and staying away from families apart from not sending any money for their sustenance – the migrants are desperate to go home.

The Jharkhand Nagrik Prayas (JNP),a group of concerned citizens, has issued a press statement narrating the woes of one such migrant from Bihar. The statement reads, “Life in Mumbai has always been tough what with no decent place to stay within the money I earned every day. My own State Bihar has no work to give so that I could stay with my family in the village. I meet my family maybe once a year for a few days when I get leave to go back to my village. I own no farmland in my village. Others who own small plots cannot sustain themselves and their family and hence migrate to cities for additional income. This is our fate for generations and perhaps God willed it so.”

The issue of the migrant worker post the lockdown was highlighted in three points when he said –

a) Work for me was not available for the period of Lockdown
b) no payment would be made until work restarted
c) I would also have to quit the place I was staying in unless I continued to pay the rent

These were the reasons most of the migrant workers wanted to return to the safety of their villages. If their employers could be with their families in the safety of their homes, why didn’t the migrants deserve it, he questioned.

Post the announcement of the lockdown, transport, even inter-state, was shut and all the migrant workers could do to reach home was walk back on foot. And they did.

Disappointed, he asked whether people like him were second class citizens under the Constitution, saying, “We were stopped at inter-state boundaries by the administration and assured they would be allowed to return after the 21-day lockdown which started on March 25 would be lifted on April 15. We were promised that they would be given living accommodation, food, money, etc. for the period of lockdown and once it was over we could go back to our village. There was no other alternative but to follow the order given and we complied under protest, mentioning that why we migrants were singled out for not going back to our family when others more fortunate were living comfortably with their families.”

Their woes didn’t end there. He mentioned to JNP the plight of the migrants at the shelters saying, “The 21-day Lockdown for us was a nightmare since we were herded into shelters across the country totally violating the Social Distance norms so much emphasized by our PM. Promised food was erratic at best with mostly one meal a day. While we ate we wondered what our wives and children would be eating in the village with the meager resources at their disposal. We went through this 21-day Lockdown with the hope that once it was over we could go back to our village finally and see our family.”

The extension of the lockdown to May 3 came as a shock to them he said as they were desperately looking to reunite with their families. The worker said, “This (the extension) was not the right thing to do and we had become collateral damage players in the war against Coronavirus. Social distancing doesn’t apply to where we are asked to stay; physical contact with one another ensures that coronavirus if it is there is guaranteed and meager food weakens us against the fight against this pandemic.”

Not only this, migrants are also feared by their native states, with administrations thinking they will spread the coronavirus there. He says, “In effect, we have become carriers of coronavirus and if we hopefully disappear, the rest of the population will heave a sigh of relief.”

In conclusion he highlights the great divide between the privileged and the underprivileged telling JNP, “Members of Parliament, even in the lockdown, travel from Delhi to their Jharkhand constituencies by car with drivers and bodyguards and this does not raise any eyebrow but our attempt at trans-border movement sparks a protest as if we are demons on the move. Does anyone feel how troubling it is to be away from your family in this epidemic? Perhaps not, since those living in comfortable houses with their family and having everything to eat as per their choice can never imagine the misery and harassment that I as a migrant have been facing for the last few months and will be tortured for the months ahead.”

“Could not the government have made arrangements to transport us back to our villages, maybe using Army trucks, so that we could have also become equal participants in this fight against coronavirus? For us hunger and anxiety are far greater viruses than coronavirus. In the scheme of things we have already become expendable targets and our deaths do not count,” he conveys.



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