This image has caught the nation’s consciousness in shock, and perhaps helplessness and guilt. Last few months in India have been a disaster. Series of disturbing news of people getting harassed, beaten up, and even killed. Now not so new Covid-19 has kept our lives on hold and magnifying the issues we have been facing since a long time. This blog is not to point fingers. I am just trying to highlight the issues, identify their roots and emphasise on the need of the hour. Focusing on a specific occupational community, but a large population of our country cutting across class, caste, gender – migrant workers.
An overwhelming 120 million people or more are estimated to migrate from rural areas to urban labour markets, industries and farms. Migration has become essential for people from regions that face frequent shortages of rainfall or suffer floods, or where population densities are high in relation to land. Areas facing unresolved social or political conflicts also become prone to high out migration. Poverty, lack of local options and the availability of work else where become the trigger and the pull for rural migration respectively … (Aajeevika Bureau), a fellowship partner, gives a lot of insights into these.
Covid-19 is spreading rapidly and countries have to take quick actions to contain the spread of the virus. On evening of 24th March 2020, a nationwide lockdown was announced in India. Majority of commercial services were asked to shut their offices and work from home. Transportation was only open for essential services and people were asked to not leave their house unless and until necessary. The lockdown was necessary. Soon as it got in action, news and videos of people breaking the rules of lockdown and still roaming on streets got viral. Some even showed people getting beaten up by police and the other way round. India is a large and diverse country, during hard times like these, incidents of such kind is ought to happen, these were tackled and things were brought in control. The citizens need to be well informed about any decision being taken that affects their lives.
Government announced the nationwide lockdown at 8pm in the evening on Television, Radio and Social Media. I feel a lot of information was not conveyed clearly which led to confusion and chaos amongst the citizens. One such group of people was the migrant workers around the country. We saw lockdown brought in the construction work as well as commercial sector to shut down various activities. This led to loss of jobs and the daily wage workers were the first to face the thrust. Where most of us, including me, were busy stocking up grains and pulses for emergency, most of these people i am talking about above was clueless seeing the shops shut and no vehicles on the morning of 25th March 2020.
Could the announcement of lockdown be included in the caller-tune or conveyed through calls with recorded messages?
Soon the food and money they had got exhausted and just like everybody else, even they were left with no other option than home, where they would find food to eat and a shelter to be safe. With no pro-active transportation service made available; thousands of migrant labours chose to walk long miles to reach their homes.
Walking with an hope to reach home safely, thousands of these labour were still unaware of the intensity of this virus and how they can be carrier of the virus to their families and neighbours. A major problem was emerging and soon the government asked states to lockdown – stopping any in-outward movement of people. Again these people were now stranded at different state borders without food and shelter and most importantly exposed to the virus. Although state government was told to make arrangements for shelter and food, but is it as easy to manage such a large population together in these conditions? Crowd gathering at open-air soup kitchens and food distribution outlets was completely disobeying the rule of social distancing. I feel a hungry man is more likely to break the law. But at what cost you would ask? I say again had the information passed on be clear and crisp, laws and rules would definitely been followed more stringently.
What Can Be Done?
We would be prepared for any such calamity and be able to manage needs of our migrant population if the labour standards would have been followed strictly with better implementation, and more and more work being under contract. But let us focus on what could be the immediate plan to manage this large population now stranded at different places, unsure of getting their next meal.
- Decentralisation: Large population is difficult to manage, we cant have people crowd at one place and increase the chances of the spread. Smaller quarantine camps should be setup at public grounds within the city where social distancing can be maintained along with arrangement of food, water and emergency help. Also help provide food and water relief to daily wagers living in slums
- Sanitize: It is important to regularly sanitize such places where people are present in large numbers. Ample logistics has to be provided and kept in check regularly. The standards for sanitization methods should be maintained and should be similar for every citizen
- Leverage The Civil Society And Citizen’s Groups: RWAs are trying to reach out to the urban poor near their residences. Non-profits, back by CSR funds and crowd funding are getting on the ground. The administration should take their aid and manage the allocation so that everyone is covered.
- Helpline Infrastructure: That works to collate distress cases as well as in a later stage will help in the public health management as well as counselling. Mental health needs of all citizens are equally important, although spoken of very discriminately.
- Future Action Plan: India is in now in its 6th week since outbreak of 100 Covid-19 positive cases. The lockdown is more likely to be extended. We need to have to have robust as well as feasible plan on board for migrant population.
Although most of the migrant workers have not migrated by choice but by distress, cities now depend a lot on them. They help us build our houses, offices, malls. They help deliver our food and online orders. They help us in our homes, they clean our mess. Let us help those in need who help us, albeit out of no choice, but still don’t leave our sides.