If you thought the sight of thousands of migrant labourers walking for miles under the scorching sun was the lowest point of the coronavirus lockdown for our nation, think again. Today bear witness to an image of migrant workers being sprayed with a disinfectant in the city of Bareilly upon their arrival. You can see these workers, who have somehow managed to get back home, fighting mass panic, shortage of supplies, scarcity of food, accommodation, police lathis, harsh climate and exhaustion, squatting down on the road, as they are bathed in a solution which was meant to clean buses! Did we do the same with travellers returning from Italy, China, Iran, the US, or any country to have cases of COVID-19? Then what have they done to deserve this inhuman treatment?

SOME QUESTIONS:

  • Did we spray travellers returning from countries known to have COVID-19 cases with disinfectant?
  • Why did the authorities fail to convince migrants to stay put where they were in the first place?
  • Why were they not assured that they will be taken care of?
  • Where are the isolation camps for these poor migrants? How are we ensuring that they don’t end up carrying COVID-19 to interiors of India, apart from spraying them with disinfectant?

Whose responsibility was it, to assure migrant labourers that they will be taken care of and that they shouldn’t risk their well-being or that of their loved ones, by travelling during the lockdown?

First things first, this mass migration shouldn’t have occurred. The blame lies equally with all stakeholders who failed to ensure the well-being of citizens of Delhi and UP, because of the major lapse in communication. How could they not assure these labourers that they would be taken care of? Why was their well-being not a priority in this lockdown? With millions thronging our megacities every year in search of opportunities, how did authorities fail to address the problems that might arise for them under lockdown? Who is responsible to take care of people when they have no food, no money to pay rent? Whose responsibility was it, to assure them that they will be taken care of and that they shouldn’t risk their well-being or that of their loved ones, by travelling during the lockdown?

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Fleeing home is an almost primal instinct if you think about it. These migrants are not alone. We have heard of techies and young professionals packing up trains and heading home the minute they were asked to work from home. Everyone heading to interior parts of the country, rich or poor, educated or otherwise, could be a potential carrier of the virus and may end up spreading COVID-19 in places where healthcare infrastructure is decrepit. Thus, this migration could negate the entire purpose of containing the spread of coronavirus. There is a reason why such strict measures are being put into place despite a lower number of cases as compared to other countries like Germany, US, Italy, Spain, Canada, etc.

We know our healthcare infrastructure will get crushed if the pandemic spreads in India. Decades worth of neglect and “chalta hai” attitude have corroded primary healthcare system in ways not many understand. It starts with donation seats at medical colleges and ends with raincoats allegedly being passed on as PPE for healthcare workers. Just look at what is happening in Italy, a developed nation which we thought had a great healthcare infrastructure! Coronavirus cracked it open and exposed it faultline. Imagine the blow it will levy on a system like ours.

Whenever this crisis is over, we need to look at this picture again and ask ourselves, why do we treat our poor so callously? Why is their well-being an afterthought to our plans?

Which is why it was of prime importance that migrant labourers were encouraged to stay put and taken care of. Secondly, they shouldn’t have been crammed in buses like cattle. Whatever happened to social distancing? And thirdly, they should have been isolated and attended to, just like people with a travel history to COVID-19 countries were. Where are the isolation camps for these migrants? How are state governments planning to screen them? How will they make sure they are practising social distancing for the coming two weeks? Who is in charge here? Who is running this show?

An official involved in this “clean up” told NDTV that migrants who came to Bareilly were sprayed with a mix of chlorine and water and asked to “keep their eyes shut.” However, District Magistrate of Bareilly tweeted that this solution was meant to disinfect buses, “but out of extra caution, they sprayed the disinfectant on the workers too.” While we have been promised action against those responsible, it cannot take the spotlight away from our unpreparedness to handle the situation.

Also Read: COVID-19 Lockdown: Isolation Is Taking A Toll On My Mental Health

Whenever this crisis is over, we need to look at this picture again and ask ourselves, why do we treat our poor so callously? Why is their well-being an afterthought to our plans? If heavens forbid, coronavirus does spread courtesy this mass migration, will the blame lie with these migrants, the authorities that failed to tackle the situation efficiently or on us, for our general apathy towards those who are underprivileged?

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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