This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Namit Mathur. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

It’s Deeply Sad, But True: This Migrant-Humanitarian Crisis Was Avoidable

More from Namit Mathur

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire world to its knees. The world economy is crippling fast and we are looking at the worst economic crisis in nearly a century. Something more glaring than the economic crisis is the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the streets of our country. The mass exodus of casual, unorganized labourers is shaking up the conscience of mankind. This pandemic hit everybody hard and we all were caught unprepared.

But the hardest hit were the urban migrants who lost their livelihood in cities and were left with no hand to their assistance. After the first lockdown, the Government of India came with a meagre economic relief package, followed by no integrated national approach to tackling this crisis for nearly five weeks. In this unprecedented moment of complete lockdown, the worst-hit had nothing to fall on. This humanitarian crisis was avoidable lest could have been better managed and tackled.

A train ran over 16 sleeping migrants who were en route their native place.
On May 8th in Aurangabad, a train ran over 16 sleeping migrants who were en route their native place.

On May 8th in Aurangabad, a train ran over 16 sleeping migrants who were en route their native place. Almost a week later, 14 migrants were killed by a running roadways bus in Muzaffarpur and a 22-year-old boy died of exhaustion due to his ‘long walk to home’ from Hyderabad to Odisha. These ‘accidents’, which are just a few of many, speak loud and clear about the monumental failure of our society and precisely, of the government of the day.

Migrants were walking by themselves, some bare-footed and hungry, in the peak summer months to go to their home states because they saw no certainty about their future. Their guardian, the government, was entirely missing from the scene. The underlying humanitarian crisis of loss of lives and livelihoods of our urban migrants, who have been left to die and languish on their own, could have been avoided and better managed. As a society, we need to fix the accountability of the loss of these lives.

The Government’s ‘Insufficient’ And Delusional Relief Package

While complete lockdown was significantly needed to slow down the spread of the virus, the government of the day declared it without providing a roadmap on how to tackle the panic mass movement of casual, self-employed, unorganized labourers and workers due to complete halt on business and other activities and their resulting loss of livelihoods.

There were no detailed roadmap nor initiative by the Government of India on either to assure and inspire confidence in the migrant labourers to stay where they are (by promising quick, targeted, and sufficient compensation) or by arranging for their safe return to their native places.

Anyone would have seen it coming. How would one expect a migrant labourer of Bihar to stay in Delhi, pay his rent and other living expenses for indefinite days of lockdown without any source of income or monetary compensation? With the loss of income, the eventual drain of savings, and negligible government aid, the panic in the most vulnerable section is obvious.

Migrants on rail tracks

The government in its insufficient relief package promised Rs.500 cash transfer into a woman’s Jan Dhan account per household per month and expected them to meet their entire expenses for a month? Apart from food grains that the government sought to provide, what about other expenses such as medicines, milk and milk products, house rent, and other miscellaneous expenses?

The government was delusional if it believed that Rs. 500 transfer per month per household and 5 kg food grains would ensure them a dignified and sufficient means to livelihood to keep them where they are and not move panickily. It was too little.

On 28th March, the 3 km long queue of migrants from UP, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh at Anand Vihar ISBT in Delhi (even after the announcement of relief package) to board buses for their native place was a case in point.

We, as a society, also had an onus to assist them according to our capacities. No doubt, civil society, and various help-groups came forward to voluntary aid the stranded migrants by providing them with food and ration. Some state governments also provided temporary settlement, food, and other relief measures to the stranded population.

But the scale and propensity of a crisis unfolding on our streets, visuals of migrants taking highways in the scorching heat, carrying luggage and their children on their shoulders, walking on bare-foot to their native villages—shows that these measures were unorganized, dispersed and irregular throughout the country. It did not have a consistent and effective impact on their conditions.

The Absent Policy Reforms That Could Have Avoided The Crisis

This particular mess needed a unified policy on a national level that would have a reach in terms of monetary compensation as well as official solidarity and confidence-building directed to quash away the plight of migrants.

A timely National Policy promulgated just after the lockdown, or even a dedicated task force with Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), would have lessened the scale and propensity of this crisis. Not completely absolving state governments of their duties, but different SOP’s adopted by different states did not help.

A particular state government may have arranged roadways buses to take stranded people to their native places unless their home state government resisted this move and stopped them the borders only. There was no consistency in the steps taken by the various state governments given the conditions and necessities vary from state to state.

Not to mention the drying revenue of the state governments, who substantially depends on the central government for funds. That’s where a need for an integrated, authoritative allocation of rules or centrally mandated policy came in. An action-oriented vision was all that was needed.

Migrants were completely homeless, money-less, and hopeless from March 25, when the lockdown came into being till the May 1, when ‘Shramik Special’ trains were allowed to take stuck migrants to their home states. After five weeks of no action. To add to this, they were charged train fares until this news became a political controversy!

migrant workers in despair

COVID-19 brought with itself healthcare, economic, and a humanitarian crisis. While there has been an institutional and planned response from the government in the healthcare sphere and partially in the economic sphere, it was completely missing in this particular humanitarian mess.

There was an institutional apathy from the side of the government to deal with this problem. The fight against the invisible enemy will not be won if it brings tremendous trauma and pain to a section of our population, that may stay with them for years.

The loss of life and livelihood for them will leave an indelible mark on their lives. While we should applaud and cheer our front-line workers in this fight against the pandemic, we also need to sensitize ourselves towards the growing pain of the numerous urban migrants and question the unconcern shown by authorities. Those who have a platform to speak should use it to the need of those who face apathy from the higher echelons of our society.

Twenty lakh crore’s fiscal stimulus package announced by PM Modi on the 50th day of lockdown is a welcome step. Except if it doesn’t over-care for only the supply chains than that was needed (as we have a demand-side problem) and ignore the plight of these labourers. There is a strong case of a substantial direct cash transfer to their accounts to sustain their livelihoods. Better late than never.

You must be to comment.
  1. Anurag Yadav

    Hey Namit,

    First off, congratulations brother on this post. This is really a very informed and comprehensive analysis of the negligence of the government towards those who are most vulnerable to this pandemic.

    This is really important – to ask questions – the trademark of a healthy democracy. But in this twitterati world people end up taking sides or they’re made to choose one. I usually refrain from reading people’s so called ‘opinions’ , which ironically are nothing but consequences of the Information Bubble in which they’re enclosed, cause to have an independent opinion you need to be very informed and critical – a rare sight these days.

    Writing a good post needs a lot of homework something an indolent person like me don’t want to do. So great work there brother!
    Looking forward to reading the next post and yeah off to share this one.:)

    1. Namit Mathur

      Thank you so much Anurag for your words of appreciation!
      I couldn’t agree more to the fact that our public discourse has become just a pool of opinions formed by closed-chamber socialisation. While the truth is being subsided, our politics and society is moving towards ‘post-truth’ process where hollow rhetoric is applauded and substance is derided.
      Looking forward to your work too!

More from Namit Mathur

Similar Posts

By Bedanta Upadhyay

By Rahul Shakdwepiya

By akhila cg

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below