The Horrid Story of Invisible Migrant Workers of India & The Way Forward (5 Mins Read)
“If I don’t die with Corona, I will surely die with hunger”. These were the words of my carpenter who have been working in my house since the last ten years. He had visited my place amidst the lockdown with his scary face. The poor man who was wearing a golden colored mask had little understanding of how to take precautions, had been sitting in his dingy home waiting for this lockdown to get over. Many Migrant workers are dismissed by employers, enjoy no protection from the government, and are rendered homeless are in urgent need of food, transport & money.
“Don’t know which kind of disease has come, people are telling that this disease is even in the air, I am waiting when will I be able to go to my village”. In every phase of lockdown he waited eagerly with the hope that at least this time he will be allowed to move out and this hope is still continuing. He belongs to Azamgarh, had migrated a decade back to Lucknow in search of work. His wife and two sons live in a village in Azamgarh, his daughter is married to another migrant in Mumbai and he is here with his two sons. They are a divided family with united hope of their economic life coming back to normal someday.
Not only this poor man but the world also never expected such a serious impact of any pandemic like Corona Virus Disease (COVID). No country in the world was ever prepared to tackle the situation arising out of this contagion pandemic. Many countries have developed Pandemic Preparedness Plans (PPP) in response to an earlier crisis like Swine Flu, SARS, etc. This PPP is aimed at guiding actions and investments to respond to such an outbreak. But no such plan is able to tackle the nCOVID-19 breakdown with lack of any systematic plan, medicine or vaccination to combat the spread of this disease. Moreover, Migrants in no country found any place in any of the PPPs.
The Migrant workers of India are directly responsible for at least 10 percent of GDP of the country but why are they so invisible?
Impact on the Migrant Workers
One policy measure which has been adopted by almost every affected nation of the world as a remedial measure to stop the spread of the COVID is partial or total lockdown of the economy and curbing movement of people, (barring few exceptions). This lockdown impacted the livelihoods of a large proportion of the population especially the migrant workers who had moved from rural areas to urban economic centers due to their livelihood concern and generally form a part of the informal economy. In the present crisis, all major economic activities were shut down and these migrant workers and laborers were left to their own fate. The COVID outbreak has placed these migrant workers in a challenging situation where they had a fear of losing their jobs along with their inability to return home due to disruption of public transport services and severe movement restrictions. With the sudden announcement of Lockdown in India, all these migrant workers got stranded, many of them decided to commute back to their places of origin on foot. This journey for many of them ranged from a few hundred kilometers to more than thousands of kilometers.
“My sister, her husband, and their small child all traveled for 15 days from Delhi to reach Bhagalpur on foot. Now they have been kept in some school, don’t know why, while all the tests are normal” opined my housemaid. She was wondering why the migrant family is not been allowed to enter their own village. The anguish, helplessness, and fear could be heard in her voice too.
Not only for these migrant workers but also for all the people on the “Travel March” the distress was full of hunger, thirst, humiliation, breathlessness, and for some even losing their lives in this desperate journey. They became more vulnerable to contagion risks and many of them became COVID carriers.
If we look at the statistics then, internationally the US has been witnessing the maximum influx of migrants over the years and it became the biggest hotspot of COVID cases. For instance, as per World Migration Report 2019, the USA (Rank 1), Germany (Rank 2), and France (Rank 4) are the top destinations and these countries are also bearing the severe impact of Coronavirus which is responsible for the spread. At the national level, the most favored destinations of migrant workers have been Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh respectively. Incidentally the top three cities with a maximum confirmed COVID cases are also in these states. It may be inferred that with the movement of this floating population the risk of spreading COVID or any such epidemic becomes severe and the origin and destination areas of migrant workers also become high-risk zones.
What Next To deal with the Migrant Workers’ Crisis?
1. Considering Migrant Population into Policy Making & Updating of Migrant Data Regularly
Given the quantum, spread, and risk of the ongoing epidemic and future occurrences of epidemics it is imperative that the migrant population must be included in Pandemic Preparedness Plans (PPPs). It is important that the state-wise database of migrant workers needs to be updated regularly so as to understand the numbers and magnitude of movement. Accordingly, policies can be designed and implemented keeping the needs and risks involved with this floating population so that any future epidemic or calamity can be addressed without much difficulty.
2. Focussing on Rural Economy & Rural Development
The model of “Gram Swaraj” as proposed by “Mahatama Gandhi” & the concept of “Proving Urban Amenities in Rural Areas” as proposed by Hon'ble Dr. Shri (Late) Abdul Kalam, Former President of the Republic of India is the way forward to develop the self-reliant and self-sustainable rural economy. The two main areas of focus should be — Agriculture & Rural Industrialisation.
Rural Industrialisation & Agriculture will firstly generate local jobs and promote rural development. Secondly, it will also prevent the unwanted migration of people to already saturated and overloaded urban cities of India. The Local Self Help groups and domestic produce industry will also get a push and will contribute significantly in the “Make in India” and “Vocal for Local Initiative” of the current Modi Government.
3. Focussing on Rural and Semi-Rural Medical Infrastructure
The central and the state governments must seriously focus on creating medical infrastructure especially in semi-urban and rural areas. As of now, the best they can do is to keep focusing on augmenting the facilities of the testing and treatment of Covid-19 for timely identification and cure of affected people.
The psychological fear created by the COVID in the minds of the people is not going to disappear in the near future, hence, what will be the fate of these migrant workers in the coming time is uncertain. Will they go back to work at the place where they had been working in pre-lockdown state or will they look for another destination in the post lockdown scenario will be a challenge for these migrant workers, their employers, and also for the government keeping in mind the post lockdown life and economy. These people themselves need to understand their own responsibilities towards themselves, their families and society by taking necessary hygiene precautions and continuing to follow the instructions given by the government, thus, accepting the New Normal till the life gets back to the Old Normal.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views, policy & position of The Easy Wisdom.