Migrant Workers On The Move: Harsh Reality Of COVID-19 Lockdown
Yesterday, I got a call from my 25-year-old house help and the first thing she asked was “Didi, do you know when is this lockdown going to get over?” It’s been around 10 days that she is not coming to work, first because of the social distancing mandate adopted by the society and subsequently, the lockdown came into effect. She said that the grapevine in her neighbourhood has it that the lockdown will get extended to three months and explained that most of the people in her neighbourhood are waiting for some “special trains” to start. A mother of two, her kids are currently staying in her village in West Bengal. She had moved to Mumbai along with her husband, a couple of years ago.
Even if she knows this is hearsay, and tells herself that her safety lies in staying where she is (as I told her), is it not human for her to want to go back home and unite with her family? Combating infection is not the first thing on her mind as she knows the hard reality that if she doesn’t work there will be no money soon and as a result no food. It is not an easy choice to make.
Sitting in our homes all of us want an answer to her question, but sadly no one has it yet. Every single day we are cribbing about things which seem too trivial when you see the challenge and uncertainty that a huge part of the Indian population is facing. The most heart-breaking images which have come amid the lockdown are undoubtedly the pictures showing the sea of daily-wage workers and migrant labourers determined to walk thousands of kilometres to go back to their native places. Many people have compared the scenes to the great Bengal famine and the exodus that happened during the partition of India. Are they really far from the truth?
Combating infection is not the first thing on her mind as she knows the hard reality that if she doesn’t work there will be no money soon and as a result no food. It is not an easy choice to make.
Among the viral videos is also a short video of the Anand Vihar ISBT, in East Delhi, where lakhs have thronged to get a bus. It tore me apart because it hit home. I have lived in that neighbourhood and I wouldn’t be exaggerating that some of the people who have been part of my household might be standing in those queues, to board a bus.
In a country like ours, for millions the truth is, they can only put food on the table when they go out to work, for them the bigger scare is hunger and not COVID-19. This is a very hard reality which is glaring at us as more and more such stories come out. Yes, there have been several warriors who are reaching out too, their work is commendable and needs to be acknowledged.
The most heart-breaking images which have come amid the lockdown are undoubtedly the pictures showing the sea of daily-wage workers and migrant labourers determined to walk thousands of kilometres to go back to their native places.
Agreed that we are in an unprecedented situation, the lockdown is our only hope to sail through this emergency with minimum damages. However, there is no denying that the have nots in this society always have had the shorter end of the stick. I tried to reason with her over a 45-minute long call that I am also staying in a city which is new to me, and my ageing parents and family are in a different city and with no trains and flights I may not be able to reach them either. I tried to tell her that our conditions are similar and we are all in it together. So, we need to think through before we make a decision. Right now, staying safe is the most important thing. She has agreed to wait for the time being. But have I been able to convince myself about the similarity? Perhaps not.
Picture Credit: Facebook/Shibal Bhartiya
The views expressed are the author’s own.