The coronavirus lockdown has had unintended consequences. The gravest of outcome has befallen a section of Indian Citizens, whose existence itself was oblivious to all, including the Indian State. The misery, the trauma, the suffering that these people have undergone and are still facing is an unparalleled human tragedy. They meet this fate in their own country, at the hands of their fellow citizens and it cannot get worse for them. These are the migrant workers.
The migrant workers are the cogs without whom the wheels of the Indian economy would not move. They are the people who make the bottom of the pyramid in Indian cities, on whom stands the aspirations of modern India. The migrant workers are the backbone of what is construed as glistening and dazzling India in front. They are the dark underbelly to make India a $5 trillion economy. All these at a price of denial of their being.
The most agonizing aspect of this gut-wrenching ordeal of migrant workers is an utter disownment by everyone, institutions – public/private and civic society, involved.
India counts her citizens every ten years with the added paraphernalia of National Sample Survey and all. There is a surfeit of welfare programmes and schemes – Central and State; that require stringent beneficiary identification. If not for the coronavirus, the Union Government would have visited every household in the country for NRC/CAA.
We are told that we live in smart cities, governance is digitized and every data is available online. When people crib about the surveillance State, we are told that the omnipresent Government is a necessity to ensure the nation’s safety. The Governments – Central and State, continue to behave as maai-baap and masters of their subjects, claim total control and solicit unconditional compliance.
The lockdown announcement brings out the migrant workers in droves and the Governments realize that they have nowhere to hide. They have no idea of the genie of migrant workers that have been going around and no State is large enough to take the genie back.
There is absolutely no credibility in the Government’s narrative that they work for the citizens of the country. When they have no idea/data about a large mass of citizens – migrant workers, what welfare and whose welfare can a Government claim?
Imagine, these are the Governments – Central and State, that are going to save the country from coronavirus.
What were the migrant workers doing in alien lands? They were surely not sight-seeing or on an excursion. They had moved out of their lands to earn a livelihood. Given that their status was hand to mouth and unemployment would mean certain doom, they had to be working somewhere.
Imagine the working conditions, the wages, the employer-employee relationships that no business, where they would have toiled, was ready to fend for them. One call for lockdown and all the workers were pushed out to take care of their selves. Surely, any industry worth its occupation would have a shed or at least a parking place to give their migrant workers a roof over their heads.
No, it is a bit too much to ask for from the industries that employed these workers and made them grind out a meagre living. All these industries remain faceless and nameless for public shaming is not what Indians are used to. All employers can continue with their charade of corporate values.
The Political Leaders
At every opportunity, the political leaders of any hues jump to protect their constituents, for that is their vote-bank. They have to put up their pretence of being mass leaders and caring for their well-being. Not in this case, though.
Has anyone noticed any political leader coming out for the protection of rights of migrant workers? In the recipient State of workers, political leaders would not speak up for they are hand-in-glove with the industries that employ these workers. They have to collect their protection money from these industrialists. In the sender State of workers, political leaders would not speak up for they know that these were not the people who voted for them or are going to vote for them. Why bother?
Either way, political leaders across spectrum and States, have washed their hands off this crisis. Not a worth-while vote-bank to invest in.
The Judiciary, The Media, The Civic Society
The Judiciary that takes suo-moto cognizance of affairs of public interest is surprisingly silent in this matter. Maybe, they also know there is nothing much in this case to grease their bearings.
The Media would not move out of its Page 3 and Yellow Journalism obsession even at these times. It is more important to inform readers/viewers about what Anushka Sharma/Virat Kohli is up to. They are busy masquerading press releases from Government as news reporting. It saves money.
The Civic Society would not get bothered about the migrant workers’ crisis for they are unlike us in every aspect. We have what is happening to them cannot happen to us syndrome. Yes, what happens in the US can happen to us. The Indian Society exhales inequality in every breath. A casual discussion about a few unfortunate ones is what we are capable of.
Of course, the situation is not that bad. I hope not. The Governments, the industry and the civic society are at work to ease the pain of the migrant workers.
Just that, we do it as an act of throwing a piece of bread to a street dog and not as an act of compassion to a fellow citizen. Forget it. Too much to expect from us as a country and a society. Else migrant workers would not have been there in the first place as the unaccounted Indian Citizens.