Migrants and their tragic tales of Lockdown

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This post has been written by Anushree Tadge, a third year law student from ILS Law College, Pune.

“It’s true that Corona might kills us but hunger definitely will.”
                                                                                                                     –     Alam (migrant, from Bihar)

According to the World Bank, The lockdown observed in India which started about two months ago has impacted nearly 40 million of internal migrant “Around 50,000–60,000 migrants have moved from urban hotspots to rural areas of their origin/native in the span of a few days,” the bank said in a report. The World Bank also claimed that the magnitude of internal migration is about two‐and‐a‐half times that of international migration. Lockdowns, loss of employment, and social distancing prompted a chaotic and painful process of mass return for internal migrants in India and many countries in Latin America.

Accidents due to the executive overreach of Lockdown

  1. Aurangabad tragedy : The latest accident describing the plight of migrants explained 16 migrant workers sleeping on rail tracks in Aurangabad were crushed to death by a goods train on Friday morning, 15-05-2020, other few reported were injured.
  2. In another incident in UP, 24 migrants were killed and 37 others were injured in an accident in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya. A trolley truck, was stationed at Mihauli at a dhaba and a DCM truck, coming from Delhi carried around 20 migrant workers, probably due to the driver falling asleep, both the vehicles collided and killed numerous people.
  3. On the dates of May 13 and 14, 14 migrants were killed and 61 injured in two separate road accidents, , while walking to UP and Bihar, their homes.
  4. An Agra-bound UP roadways bus hit a group of migrants, six in number, who were walking from Haryana to their home in Bihar.
  5. Truck carrying nearly 65 migrant labourers from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh collided with a bus and led to numerous injuries of people
  6. 6 migrant labourers walking to return to their homes in Uttar Pradesh were killed and 12 others injured when a mango filled truck overturned and crushed them.
  7. The truck, on route of Hyderabad to Agra over speeded when it turned sideways on the highway leading to the death of five migrant workers on the minute.

So far around 2,000 road crashes and 368 deaths from the period of March 25 til May 16 (11 am) have been reported. More but not less deaths are not even reported because we live in a state where Arnab Goswami’s plea before the Supreme Court is handled more carefully and the same Supreme Court made a statement that – it cannot stop or monitor their movement on roads. Firstly, The SC rejected plea seeking relief for such migrants secondly the bench wondered how this Court could stop migrants from walking. “How can anybody stop this (mishaps on road since lockdown) when they sleep on railway tracks?” Justice Kaul asked. Justice Rao said, “There are people walking and not stopping. How can we stop it? The Chief Justice of our country when asked about the Relief measures for migrant workers, only said that – We do not plan to Supplant wisdom of govt with our wisdom. He even said in an interview that he believes in the Executive power and that it  has the competence to handle the situation, as it has been controlling the 3Ms – money, men and material. Whereas the Solicitor General of our country said that related to a hearing before Supreme Court on Friday, 15 May 2020, related to the deaths of 16 migrants on a railway track that the authorities could not do anything if people get angry and start on foot instead of waiting for the transport to be provided, he assured interstate transport. And yes, the interstate railways worked with notice of 4 hours for these migrants but with steep fares which were to be paid by these half starved labourers. The government rescued the Indian stuck abroad free of cost using the flights of Air India but people who live on what they earn daily are expected to pay for the lockdown they never called for? So what is the PM CAREs Fund for? Subramaniam Swamy tweeted. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot have also called for the government to bear the costs on humanitarian grounds.

“How will this battle faced by India’s migrant labourers ultimately turn out?” was a question asked by Quartz Indiain an interview with Irudaya Rajan, who has been studying migration trends in India since last 35 years.

He answered precisely, that In the short term course, the migrants will lose. In the long term, they will win. Because one cannot imagine metropolitan cities without migrants? He also added that migrants constitute some 30%-40% of the economies of many cities. It is impossible to run the economy without them. The government even if wishes to reopen industries, how will operate without migrant workers? One can already see the problem emerging in Kerala.

The WHO actually believes containment measures like ours due to the lockdown might have contributed to spreading the epidemic and creating more severe situations because the epidemic is not in the Government’s control but the road accidents are . This reminds us of a famous quote from the Oscar winning movie, The Two Popes, “when nobody is to blame, everybody is to blame”. It is the basic responsibility of the Government and collective responsibility of the fortunate heads to address the challenges faced by internal migrants and provide every small effort possible to give them food, health services, cash transfer and other social programs, in these difficult times. As soon as the the national lockdown was announced, the first section of society to be struck the worst were – labourers; we live in a country where the utensils banging to spread positivity on the day of Janata Curfew had a notice period of 4 days but a crucial decision like nationwide lockdown was announced with absolutely no intimation before time. It made impossible for the people  who lived on daily wages  to sustain in  the metros with overhead expenses and no money. So, naturally they had only two choices- leave for their respective villages or stay back and struggle till the lockdown was relaxed. People who found it difficult, and wanted to go back home had a simple question – how? there were no vehicles. Many left, walked or hid in milk tankers, dumpers, vegetable trucks etc., but there were many more who even stayed back. So people who are left behind- continue to struggle- not to be protected against the pandemic, rather to ‘survive’ and right there can be called as the biggest failure of Government to enforce a stunt like lockdown without prior notice.

Vidyanand Thakur, mason, currently in Noida has been eating watery dal and rice for a month now. He said “The only option I have is to go back to my village in Bihar or die here in Noida without food.”

There’s still some ray of hope as 12 states have issued guidelines to protect the migrant workers class trying to go back home. Citizens have also pitched in and started various initiatives to support these under privileged. In a report filed with the Supreme Court in April, the Centre reported NGOs across India had served 30.11 lakh meals during the Lockdown 1.0– in many states, they were actually working in the field way ahead of the government in providing this relief. Please read the article- https://indianexpress.com/article/express-sunday-eye/citizens-helping-migrants-stranded-coronavirus-lockdown-6412617/ to read in depth about some guardian angels who are present around us and work to make this world a better place to live in.

References

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/coronavirus-lockdown-toddler-among-3-killed-as-truck-carrying-up-migrants-meets-with-accident-6408769/

https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/supreme-court-migrant-workers-crisis-no-judicial-review-high-courts-show-way-coronavirus-lockdown

https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/sc-on-pil-seeking-wages-for-unorganised-workers-154889

https://www.thequint.com/news/law/solicitor-general-tushar-mehta-tells-sc-migrants-get-angry-start-walking-blames-for-not-waiting-for-trains

https://twitter.com/Swamy39

https://theprint.in/india/if-railways-refuses-make-pm-cares-pay-fare-swamy-calls-govt-moronic-for-charging-migrants/413983/

https://thewire.in/rights/migrants-walking-photos-lockdown-covid-19

https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/covid-19-lockdown-courting-death-injury-migrants-killed-accidents-way-home-1678837-2020-05-17

 

 

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