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Are We Even Empathetic Towards The Migrant Crisis?

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

कुछ ऐसे कारवां देखे हैं सैंतालिस में भी मैने

ये गांव भाग रहे हैं अपने वतन में

हम अपने गांव से भागे थे, जब निकले थे वतन को

हमें शरणार्थी कह के वतन ने रख लिया था

शरण दी थी

इन्हें इनकी रियासत की हदों पे रोक देते हैं

शरण देने में ख़तरा है

हमारे आगे पीछे, तब भी एक क़ातिल अजल थी

वो मज़हब पूछती थी

हमारे आगे पीछे, अब भी एक क़ातिल अजल है

ना मज़हब, नाम, ज़ात, कुछ पूछती है

— मार देती है

ख़ुदा जाने. ये बटवारा बड़ा है

या वो बटवारा बड़ा था


 Ever since the lockdown was announced on 25.03.2020 by the Prime Minister, the plight of the migrants has come to the fore. The closing down of all factories, construction activities, shops etc. led to massive unemployment. The large part of the said workers belonged to daily wager category and the rest earned a meagre amount not sufficient to feed themselves for a month. The necessary effect was that the workers along with their family started to go back to their native place.

Understanding Migration Of Labourers During Corona From A Legal Perspective

The said movement was understandable as that meant living closer to their family in their own house and cutting down on fixed expenses that are incurred while living in a city like Delhi or Mumbai. Living in one’s own town at least gives one social security besides being a psychological morale booster. The movement triggered due to lockdown also brought about hardships of unimaginable magnitude to the workers and labourers. One can safely say that policy paralysis led to chaos, both at the Centre and State Government level.

The migrants move away from their native village or town or state in search of better employment opportunities. We were taught in school that India continues to remain a fragile economy because of population and that overcrowding of cities is due to regional disparity w.r.t employment, education, etc. In other words, if all the state governments start focusing on creating jobs and better educational infrastructure in their state, the problem of movement and migration can be alleviated.

Article19(1)(d) of the Constitution of India provides freedom of movement to all citizens within the territory of India and article 19(1)(e) gives the right to settle in any part of India.  The clause is as under:-

“19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc.

(1) All citizens shall have the right

(a) to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;

(c) to form associations or unions;

(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;

(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and

(f) omitted

(g) to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business”

The true importance of Article 19(1)(d) and (e) was explained succinctly by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India way back in the year 1950 in Dr N. B. Khare vs the State of Delhi, where it was held as under:-

“It has been urged, though somewhat faintly, by the learned Attorney-General that the right of free movement throughout the Indian territory as enunciated in article 19 (1) (d) of the Constitution contemplates nothing else but the absence of inter-State restrictions, which might prevent citizens of the Indian Union from moving from one State to another. A law that does not impose barriers of this kind, it is said, cannot be inconsistent with the fundamental right secured by this clause. Such a restricted interpretation is, in my opinion, not at all warranted by the language of the sub-clause.

What article 19(1)(d) of the Constitution guarantees is the free right of all citizens to go wherever they like in the Indian territory without any kind of restriction whatsoever. They can move not merely from one State to another but from one place to another within the same State and what the Constitution lays stress upon is that the entire Indian territory is one unit so far as the citizens are concerned.”

The Apathy Shown By States Towards Daily Wage Earners Is Concerning

The aforesaid statement shows that freedom of movement and to settle in any part of India is the fundamental right of a citizen. The duty of the State (in this case all state governments) is to see that the movement and settling of the citizens in their respective states is not hampered and no distinction can be made between a native and migrant in so far as protecting other fundamental rights of citizens are concerned. In other words, once any citizen moves to some other State in search of education, food, employment, or may be just for the sake of it, then our Constitution integrates the said citizen into that particular State. He becomes the subject of that State government.

The intent of the said freedom thus is to allow free movement of citizens throughout the country which thus complements Article 1 of the Constitution of India that declares India i.e. Bharat to be a composition of states.

Thousands of labourers were forced to leave for their native state when their source of employment abruptly ended during the pandemic

The lockdown, however, brought about the total apathy of the States where these workers/labourers were at the time of declaring lockdown. The behaviour of sending states the laborers were originally in clearly showed that they made no efforts to stop the workers from going to their home states and assure them that they belong to the present State, all their needs of food and shelter would be taken care of by them. Rather, these states were more than happy and willing to let these citizens move out of their states to their home states. The reason for such apathy is that they were always thought of and treated as migrants/outsiders and people who congested their states despite the fact that they contributed to the economy of the state in which they were living and earning.

The kind of discrimination that migrants have faced is reflected in an article authored by Radhika Jha published in Indian Express where the author writes In a survey carried out by Common Cause and Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), the Status of Policing in India Report (SPIR) 2018, with common people across 22 Indian states, 16 percent of the respondents said that the police discriminates against people from another state. People in the cities were more likely to feel that the police discriminates against migrants, with 21 percent of respondents from cities agreeing with the statement. On the contrary, SPIR 2019, which was a survey with the police personnel across 21 Indian states, found that 24 percent of police personnel strongly believe that migrants are naturally prone to committing crimes, while 36 percent felt that they are “somewhat” naturally prone to committing crimes. In total, nearly 60 percent of the police personnel held the opinion that migrants are naturally prone to committing crimes, in other words, they are “born criminals”. What this indicates is that even though the people, overall, may not — to a large extent — feel that the police is discriminatory towards migrants, the police, when asked a direct question, did indeed display a discriminatory attitude against migrants.”

The Influx Of Migrants Will Put Burden On The Resources Of Their Native States

What was needed in these times was that the State government assure the migrants that they belong to the State and have nothing to be worried about in terms of basic amenities. Rather, the States treated them like a burden on their resources and saw this as an opportunity to de-congest their States. There were no schemes for providing food or minimum income; no engagement at all with these migrants in the hope that they would go back to their respective States. The apathy reached the level of even ignoring the community transmission of the virus during their way back to the States.

Given the aforesaid, the recipient States too had no option but to readily accept all their natives. This influx has and would in days to come, bring about financial, health, education, shelter employment problems to the recipient States who had never taken into account crores of people and their needs.

Hear this panel discussion on the migrant crisis conducted by YKA

Against the prevailing situation, the proposed action of the State of U.P. to regulate and control the movement of native workers/labourers to other States cannot be faulted with as the destination States are unable to take care of them during a crisis and which leads to reverse movement. The said destination States to say the least adopt the policy of “use and throw”.

The idea of migration commission thus has picked up the pace. The said policy decision has sent shivers across States and the step has been termed as against the Constitutional scheme. The policy may be legally vulnerable as and when it is brought about, but the same would be compatible with the conduct of the sending States.

The movement of migrants has been compared with the partition of India when crores of people had to migrate to India or Pakistan and in that quest, they lost everything from their families, property, and soul. The very idea behind partition was “two-nation theory” propounded by the then political scenario. Today the migrant movement may be termed as “too many nation theory”.

The writer is an advocate in the Delhi High Court.

feature image source: media library
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  1. Vipul Dixit

    This is a collective failure of our governments where getting political brownie points matters more than fulfilling the constitutional mandates.

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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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.

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