Social Media is flooded with the photos of daily wage earners and labourers walking desperately on foot, hoping to reach their homes in different parts of the country. They are tired and exhausted; they rest on the grass beside the road and start walking again.
But what is their fault? Why are they walking, ignoring their sore feet and tired shoulders because of the weight of the goods they have on their backs? The answer to all of these questions is one word, poverty.
COVID-19 emerged from China in December, 2019, and took more than half of the world under its influence in weeks. People suffered, died; countries were locked down, cities deserted. Italy saw worse, at least 10,000 people died.
The saddest part of all of this is that the people responsible for bringing the coronavirus to India are safe inside their houses; these people would have hardly known about it a week back. These culprits are the people from the privileged class, who can afford to go and study, work or do business in foreign countries.
They don’t work here or earn a few hundred bucks every day doing odd jobs, like rickshaw pulling or working at construction sites. They don’t work here, live in slums or sleep on footpaths and send money for survival to their families living in villages.
A pan-national lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, 2020, for the next 21 days. The daily wage earners and rickshaw pullers neither have food to eat nor the money to send home. If they stay here, they will die of hunger, and their families will die in villages, which is why they are leaving for their villages on foot, to be with their families, alive or dead.
On the one hand, people living in cities are finding new hobbies, enjoying the lockdown, reading new novels, watching new movies and spending time with their families. On the other hand, the migrants and poor are thinking about ways to survive and feed their families.
The prices of basic essentials are skyrocketing, and police is also beating people mercilessly for coming out to purchase food. This price increase has happened because of the elite class who filled their houses with excess ration as soon as the lockdown was announced. Demand increased at once, and prices went up. The poor do not have the savings to buy food.
We knowingly and unknowingly are the criminals of their misery because the government gave priority to our lives over theirs by announcing the shutdown. Maybe the virus will kill people, but before that, they will die of hunger.
Several warnings were given by the WHO and other experts that India should take the virus seriously. But the Indian government was busy hosting Namastey Trump and planning ways to demolish the CAA/NRC/NPR protests. If the public were their priority, they would have started testing people coming from other countries and put them in isolation. They wouldn’t have had to shut down the whole country.
The best example is Singapore, where most of the trade is from China; still, they are not suffering because their government banned the entry of people from China very early. The Indian government had no plan to deal with this pandemic, failing economy and the exodus of migrants from Delhi.
The government made people put their savings in banks during demonetization. Women of poor households save money from their daily expenditure for these hard times, but that money was put in banks to prove that it was not black. Some people died standing in queues during demonetization.
The story is the same; back then the poor suffered, and even now the poor are suffering. The only change is the date on the calendar and the money in some Swiss bank accounts.