It may be in the best interests when the PM asked everyone to stay put in their respective locations when the lockdown was declared, but things have gone astray since, especially for stranded migrant workers. While the rich had the privilege to fly back on the last day, it is always the poor and underprivileged who bear the wrath of any difficult measure being taken in the country.
The recent decision by the central government advising state governments to take necessary measures to transit migrant workers will be commended only for being better late than never. Labour ministry sources indicate that there could be as many as two million stranded migrant workers in the country. The government should have been more sensitive in dealing with a crisis of this magnitude. At least 25 people have died walking hundreds of kilometres in the last one month.
While some were lucky enough to have made it to their villages, the sight of people walking on highways with deteriorating health conditions shakes the conscience of the nation. Also, some women have not able to make it to hospitals and have had to deliver their babies on the road. Needless to say, most of them are migrant workers. In the name of handling a medical emergency, creating a more difficult situation has become the new norm, and it does not sit well with a country boasting of having dealt with the ongoing crisis far better than its western counterparts.
The widespread protests that happened in several parts of the country, especially in Delhi, U.P and Gujarat stand testament to how severe the problem is and how the government kept ignoring them for 40 long days. While offering migrant workers to return home when the lockdown was initiated would have put the very purpose of containing the virus in jeopardy, what should’ve been done was to come up with a roadmap to deal with it quickly and assure the migrants of a safe and secure transit, keeping them from crossing states by foot.
When the lockdown is relaxed, likely, most major cities will still be sealed off, even if economic activities resume. In that case, how are workers expected to return to work? Is it not enough that they have already been ripped off their livelihoods and have been emotionally drained? This week, three workers from Rajasthan walked 820 kilometres to reach their village only to be rammed by a truck just a kilometre away from their destination. We can only hope that this does not become a metaphorical situation for all migrant workers trying to return home just for peace.