The whole world has been plagued by COVID-19, forcing people to stay put inside their houses. However, in India, where a majority of the unorganised sector doesn’t have a roof over their heads, it has led to one of the biggest man-made disasters of the 21st century – the mass migration of labourers.
Now, while we have the luxury to sit on our sofas and feel bad for the less fortunate, criticise the govt and thank the Lord for the privilege he’s afforded us, there are journalists, who are making sure that the stories of these migrant labourers get told. There are scribes who are making sure these people don’t just end up a number, a mere statistic in the larger scheme of things.
One such scribe is veteran journalist, Barkha Dutt, who has been travelling with migrant labourers, practically since the lockdown began.
Interestingly, while doing so, she has also managed to bring back some respect to the role of a news anchor and most importantly, to that of a journalist.
Last Saturday, 26 migrant labourers had died in Auraiya, 200 kilometres from Lucknow, at around 3.30 AM. More than 30 were injured as two trucks ferrying migrant labourers collided on the highway.
But the bodies of their ‘nameless’ workers were put in plastic bags on slabs of ice on an open truck and sent home by UP administration. Naturally, the ice melted.
It was only after Dutt’s report on the matter, that social media along with other major news portals, picked it up, forcing the administration to shift them to ambulances!
The bodies of workers killed in #AuraiyaAccident were finally transferred into this ambulance after @HemantSorenJMM objected to victims bodies being bundled into plastic, thrown into the back of open truck, with those still alive and injured. No words some days. pic.twitter.com/2pBLIYcYKV— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) May 19, 2020
She even busted the myth about migrant workers getting a free passage home with her story about charging Rs 3,000 rupees per passenger for a seat at the back of a crowded truck.
She has been in the slums of Dharavi where a BMC worker died despite being tested negative twice. 3 days after his death, he was found to be positive. In that time, 2 others in the family also tested positive.
From Inside Dharavi, my report on the BMC Worker who tested negative twice for Coronavirus, his body was handed over to his family. 3 days after his death he tested positive. In that time, 2 others in the family tested positive. Our special investigation on @themojo_in pic.twitter.com/wN6lwsI7pt— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) May 15, 2020
Dutt has not only brought some of the most heart-wrenching stories of the largest mass exodus since the partition in 1947, but she has also found stories of hope and brotherhood, irrespective of the communal pyre we have been seeing lit up every night on TV.
From Hyderabad, my report on how a Hindu, Christian and Muslim came together with different religious rituals to welcome back their neighbour, who had got Corona from the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi. This is India. Not what prime time anchors claim to show you. pic.twitter.com/ZYUujZr1Xs— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) May 19, 2020
While calling out the torment caused by this lockdown, she has also found children of this war, albeit not without hope and a resolve to ensure nobody goes hungry when they grow up.
On a Rainy windswept night, crammed at the back of a Truck, a girl of 12 still smiles and shares her dream of adulthood with me. “I will help the poor when I am older. I will give them food.” This is the Story of Pallavi, a Migrant Worker’s Child . My report for @themojo_in pic.twitter.com/EMe1k2zvwT— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) May 17, 2020
There are hundreds of stories like these throughout her 63-day journey, a few of which are of hope , but most of which reek of grief, of misery and of death and the apathy of the central and state governments alike.