Migrant workers and the desperate measures in desperate times

June 10, 2020, The Liberacy:- Migrant workers were the actual victim of COVID-19 when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown from March 25th. While India was being congratulated for taking this decision earlier when compared to Italy and China, the scribbling done to contain it, is under questioning.
While you and I were lucky enough to have a roof over our heads to quarantine ourselves, about 40 million internal migrants were stuck amongst this hostility.

Millions of people migrated interstate in search of a livelihood, with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar having the highest incoming-migration, 23%, and 13% respectively.
Most of these workers managed to earn a piece of bread, a day, but are now at risk of sinking into severe poverty as per the international reports. As the experts around the world predict the global losses and compare them to the damages of World War II, a much bigger problem has emerged right in front of our eyes and it calls for immediate damage control.

Let’s take a moment to pan out all the “what-if’s” for now. What actions the government should have taken? Or how to make the most of what actions have been taken?

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Migrant workers.
Migrant workers.

“We all are in the same Storm but not in the same Boat.”

The first case of COVID-19 coronavirus was found in Kerala on January 30th as a student had returned home from Wuhan, China. The cases multiplied there just in two days. It was this time when the governments could have taken precautions for the citizens returning to the country from their international trips. However, Trump visited India on the 24th of February, 2020 and this had overshadowed the effect of the coronavirus in India for that time. Till February, India expected many asymptomatic patients to set their feet in India. Experts around the world stated that this pandemic was spreading like wildfire. India could have taken precautions from the people traveling internationally. Immediate quarantining, the passengers entering India could have changed the picture, however, this measure was taken much later. Unlike Kerala who actively practiced the Panchsutra, a set of five activities to control the spread of the contagion efficiently. This helped in reducing the spread of the coronavirus in the state. But till then hundreds of people infuriated major cities in India, hiding their travel histories. This made the situation even worse. By March India had 1000 confirmed cases, 100 deaths whereas by the end of the month there were 100 confirmed recoveries. But was it all?

The nationwide lockdown starting from March 25th was expected to tackle the spread of the virus. But it created a major problem for the stranded citizens wishing to return to their homes. People had to stay put, wherever they were, whatever the conditions were. The government extended the lockdown till May 3rd. This only added to the frustration of the migrant workers who once or twice, gathered in thousands at the Bandra railway station, Mumbai. Which only later revealed that a piece of fake news claiming that the ‘government has started trains to other states’ lead to this gathering of thousands.

Further, the government did not give any directions which rendered the migrants with no options but to walk their ways back. While those who could afford a conveyance were charged up to Rs. 4000/- to get transported in trucks, surviving on biscuits and water. The death toll of the migrants dying because of accidents rose to 110, while the country witnessed their helplessness. Disturbing stories became vocal to express the hardships faced by the migrant workers. Several images trended, like a Father crying over his phone because he couldn’t be with his son on his death bed, a woman delivering her baby at the side of the road while marching back to her home town, and the most disturbing and alarming images came, when an infant was trying to wake up his dead mother at Muzaffarpur railway station platform.
The losses are immeasurable. 

A petition stating that the stranded migrants who have tested negative for COVID-19 should be allowed to return to their native places and should not be kept forcibly in relief camps was raised in the Supreme Court. Jaydeep S. Chokkar filed this plea jointly with Gaurav Jain, stating further that this was is a violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court disposed of the plea without any directions stating, “As all the necessary steps are being taken by the Centre and the States, we do not see any purpose in keeping this writ petition pending.” 
The politicians are currently playing a blame-game between the central and state governments.

On May 1st, International Workers Day, special Shramik trains started running, providing a much safer and faster commute. To ease the conditions for the migrant workers who can now board on these trains, Congress leaders came up to help them pay for their journey. However, the costs were covered by the central and state governments and the Indian Railways. On its hearing in the SC, the Central Government talked about bearing 85% of the Shramik train travel expenditure of which the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta had no mention while presenting the Central Government’s share of the responsibilities. By 7th May we had 50,000 confirmed cases of people affected by the coronavirus. With states sending their buses and trucks for people to migrate back, we were set to see a dangerous spike in the graph of the number of cases which was earlier growing exponentially.

By 19th May we had over a lakh confirmed cases of the coronavirus, raising questions on the success of the nation-wide lockdown. 

After following a lockdown of two-and-a-half months, the Indian economy suffered up to $190 Billion output losses. It was not just India who suffered. Ever since this virus spread across the globe aggregating to its current pandemic situation, every major economy got adversely affected. The global supply chain has taken bigger blows and will take many months to recover and flourish.

Needless to say, The Indian government bought itself some time to plan its actions for days to come.
Was this lockdown a success? With 280,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 8000 confirmed deaths till June 10, it is challenging to say no, citing the size of India and its population ratio. But what can we be sure of is, that if there had not been the lockdown, we would have surely faced an intractable situation. Also, if we, the citizens of the country had followed the instructions strictly, the number of people contracting the symptoms could have been much less.

Could we as a society do more? Yes, we surely can do more than creating cooking and fitness content online. While many small groups took initiatives to feed the migrant workers and homeless people in their localities, we would have been proud to see more celebs like Sonu Sood taking strides to aid migrant workers

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