Why are migrant workers going back?
We have been witnessing heart-wrenching visuals of migrant workers and their families with children in their arms and bags on their head, walking down hundreds of miles in the sweltering heat, with hunger and hopeless writ on their faces and blisters on their bare feet. India has seen the largest exodus of 10 crore migrants which makes the backbone of its economy and 20% of its workforce which is estimated to be over 50 crores. These migrants are the one you see doing various construction work and as factory hands, delivery boys, artisans, loaders, cooks, painters, rickshaw pullers and the roadside hawkers. A sudden lockdown announcement with barely four hours’ notice took them by shock. Jobs went away from their hands overnight. The fear of being diseased and separated from their spouse and children in the hospital and dying alone shook up their survival instinct. Extension after extension of lockdown and sealing of their areas had depleted them of their meagre savings and they had nothing left to pay for rent and food. With no relief in sight about work resuming any time soon, they started scrambling for their homes. With public transport shut down, most of them have walked hundreds of miles to their homes in this massive reverse migration. Several have died along the way due to accidents, exhaustion and hunger.
Impact of Lockdown on Migrant Workers
The fear of insecurity and instability is very high in this class of society and that is also the driving instinct that makes them leave their homes and toil endlessly in cities far from home. We have paid a high price of losing such a precious section of the workforce due to the incessant fear mongering by media. No clear communication and direction from the government about the next steps have made them panic and leave in herds throwing all social distancing caution to the wind.
They are rarely part of a trade union and usually work without any contract or benefits of paid leaves, pay hikes etc. And this impact will hit us for a long time to come. No idea if many industries would ever to able to even start without these hands which comprised of both skilled and non-skilled labour. It is a humanitarian as well as economic crisis that is staring on our faces now. Gulzar has put it so poignantly in his poem, ‘They will go to die there, where there is life’. He has reasoned that cities and workspaces identify them as labours and not as human beings. So when crisis strikes they go where their heart or life is.
We have to be answerable for putting them in so many plights. These migrants are the visible face of the suffering class in India which was shocked into an economic downturn. Many more millions of people are suffering and their tears and cries are not visible. Why so much fear for a disease that has affected about a lakh of people in 4 months compared to 10 crore migrants and 130 billion population? Why do we have to see Covid everywhere whether in mobile ring tones or popping up on every website and channel? Why we have to watch the score of infected and dead like a cricket match? Don’t we have better things to do like planning how to deal with this and move on?
Why seal the buildings and societies and close all transport channels and force us to take permission to be on roads or travel to cities? We need education and awareness and not a forced containment. We cannot copy China here. We are India, a democratic country. For us the economy is a far greater emergency than the disease. And our immune system is far stronger as most of us actually live in inhumane and unhygienic conditions. We have so many alternate healing therapies that we can heal ourselves. Just set us free, and we will manage.
Are we ready to end the lockdown?
We have to trust our people. No Government or Bill gates or WHO has to tell us what is good for us. Give us knowledge and awareness and the choice of safety of our life and of our loved ones. After all who wants to die or infect his loved ones? Road accidents happen every day. We have traffic lights and instructions of compulsory helmets and fine if we don’t follow. But no one can stop us from travelling on the roads, right? Central Government has thrown the onus on state Govt. It is their turn to give a large burden of the onus to people and societies. Wisdom will prevail and we will make systems to protect ourselves and our societies and our companies.
We need to act quickly and implement resumption of Government projects, construction and commercial activities and transport and courier systems in whatever phase wise manner that makes common sense. Otherwise, it would take us back by several years and cause a lot of misery to the collective humanity.
We have to make Corona a tiny part of our life that has to be dealt with through inner strength. Emphasis has to be given to building immunity through healthy eating, holistic living and healthy mind. Yog has to become a part of our daily lifestyle. There is a hysteria to Go home everywhere. We have to go to our true home which is our inner self.