“Mujhe ghar jana hai, room mein reh kar mai pagal ho raha hu, mera mann nahi lag raha. Ghar aane ke liye madat kariye” (I want to go home; I am going crazy staying in the room. Please help me to come back home.) This is a plea of a migrant worker from Madhya Pradesh struck in Nashik, Maharashtra. He has no job in hand. He was supposed to return to his village but, the lockdown forced him to stay put in Nashik. All his hard-earned money is being spent on ration. It is easy to realise the frustration and despair of his voice.
One of the point persons from an NGO I was coordinating with suggested that I talk to him and to make him understand the current situation and the pertaining difficulties. Further, the person felt that he needs counselling. A daily wage earner, without any job and without any social capital, is in a place which is not his home. His mobility is restricted and all his savings are exhausted. He is a seasonal migrant worker. Had he been back in his village, he could have earned through agricultural work or could have worked along with family members in his field, but the pandemic has affected his sources of income. It made me realize the impact of structural inequality on the mental health of the marginalised, from low-income groups, is complex. The social, economic and physical environment of the marginalised put them at great risk of mental health issues.
Access to a counsellor is also a privilege and a luxury. Even to share woes with one’s family members, for the stranded poor, is a distant dream. One migrant worker, stuck in Pune, said that he has been staying in a shared room with 15 people. The room has one charging point. He hasn’t been able to talk to his family members for the past week. Imagine the helplessness of the person and the ill effect on their mental well being. It is easy to ask a person with a roof and food in their belly to stay connected with families and friends during this time of crisis as a solution to kill the boredom but for the vulnerable, and marginalised it remains a longing to be with them.
Another group of marginalised workers struck in Andhra Pradesh were furious over the way they were been treated. State-run helpline numbers are of no help and every time they go out to get ration, they have to face the brunt of the police forces. The state-sponsored police brutality has hurt their dignity. The anger in his voice was hard to miss. He kept repeating he left home for a job and came all the way to Andhra from Madhya Pradesh for a decent job and income. Here, the owner has abandoned them with no source of income. They were ready to go to any step to fight for their dignity and respect. They are hurt.
Poverty and mental health problems is a complex issue. The solution for their mental health problems only lies in the structural changes. False promises and an extended lockdown is taking a toll on their mental well being.
A person’s dignity and rights are curbed. I don’t know what kind of counselling would help them. What kind of suggestion would help them to fight this lockdown? They don’t want words. They want food. They want to be loved and want to belong. We have disappointed them. We have disappointed the people who work for our sake.
This lockdown has impacted people differently and, it made me realise that a solution to mental health is only for urban dwellers but, the solution for mental health problems for the marginalised lies in action and schemes, and policies impacting them.
I don’t know what to say to a person who has been hungry for two days and has no social capital in a city. They aren’t dying out of boredom. They are dying out of hunger and poverty. More than a virus, I am scared of hunger, despair and helpless which would kill them before a virus touches them.
I must say, even the solution to mental health problems is dependent on the class and society.
“The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program“.