It's been over a month since India, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has been under a nationwide lockdown.
And in these trying times, India's migrant workers and daily wagers have been the worst hit, with no savings to fall back on, no shelter left in the cities they migrated to, and no means to head home. Until now.
Ministry of Home Affairs allows the movement of migrant workers, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places, by special trains. pic.twitter.com/cYFRCvTBLj— ANI (@ANI) May 1, 2020
After months of workers adopting extreme measures, which, in some unfortunate cases, even led to their death, the government announced that railway and buses will travel between states to help migrant workers head home.
It was a welcome move, by one and all, and workers headed to stations and bus depots, with a glimmer of hope in their eyes - only to watch it crumble as they were asked to shell money for the tickets.
Migrant workers were left to borrow money, dig into their meager savings, and scramble for cash, all in the hope of returning home.
This, after weeks of being stranded in a city they traveled to for work, but that soon left them without a roof on their head and no means of earning money.
Do these migrant workers, who currently have no income and little hope of finding a job soon, not deserve the 'support' that led to the setting up of the PM Cares Fund?
Shramik Special, the train being run especially to transport migrant workers, is charging ₹50 in addition to the ticket fare per person.
In Kerala, the migrant workers had to pay ₹875 for a journey, with the state government paying for two hot meals through IRCTC.
Migrant workers arriving at T'puram railway station...circles marked for social distancing...food kits for two meals will be provided ...for remaining meals #kerala to pay for hot meals through IRCTC for the migrants till Migrants have paid 875rs /ticket for #Jharkhand @ndtv pic.twitter.com/uxM8ySPnVD— Sneha Koshy (@SnehaMKoshy) May 2, 2020
In Bengaluru, the migrant workers, who have been without a job for weeks now, were initially forced to pay double the price until finally, the state government intervened.
Can you believe this?— prita (@PritaOman) May 2, 2020
Karnataka's KSRTC is now charging exorbitant rates from migrant labour returning home.The new fare makes the poor labourers compensate KSRTC for meeting the Lockdown&distancing requirements -of only 30 petsons per bus& buses having to return empty. pic.twitter.com/x0JSJmJLHJ
KSRTC extorting higher bus fare than usual to wage workers and poor migrants who can't even afford a single rupee in this tough time.— Sanjeev Joshi (@sanjeevjoshi1) May 2, 2020
And I still remember, the same didn't happen with NRI's. 🤨🤨@BSYBJP @LaxmanSavadi
Workers and poor wage labourers have been allowed to travel in KSRTC buses free of charge from the district centres and Bengaluru to their hometowns in Karnataka for 3 days from today. The government will bear the cost: Karnataka Chief Minister's Office— ANI (@ANI) May 3, 2020
In this situation, this question begs to be asked - where are the funds for Covid-19 relief being allocated?
Keep contributing to #PMCaresFund. Keep giving up salaries & DA. Meanwhile, govt will charge migrants extra fares, burn cash on flypasts and rose petals. There'll be zero funds to States, zero waivers, zero SME/ farmer aid, no tax cuts. But keep contributing. Don't stop pls. 🙏🏽— Vaishna Roy (@vaishnaroy) May 3, 2020
What is the use of the amounts people are donating or have donated to the government funds in the hour of crisis....if migrant workers still have to pay more for their home arrival via trains, etc..???— Udte Parindey (@UdParindey) May 3, 2020
#मित्रों_को_मलाई_गरीबों_की_धुलाई— Venisha G kiba🌈🌈🌈 (@KibaVenisha) May 2, 2020
After 40 days of lockdown, Govt has agreed to run special trains for migrant workers who are stuck in cities without money & food.However, the *Govt wants the poor to pay Rs 50 extra above the regular train fare*. Even in this #pandemic time shame
Is a flower shower really the best use of funds at a time when a migrant worker is struggling to collect enough money to head home to a house dependent on his/her now absent earnings?
India was one of the first countries to evacuate its citizens from global Covid-19 hotspots, free of cost.
But migrant workers have to pay for their way home? Are migrant workers not citizens of India that the government is elected to serve and provide for?
This is certainly not the first time that the government has displayed blatant discrimination in the way it has treated its citizens. And the basis for this discrimination remains class difference, and class difference alone.
Migrant workers had to travel thousands of kilometers on foot, pedal, swim, and even hide in trucks and concrete mixers, to find their way home before the government took any action.
#WATCH 18 people found travelling in the mixer tank of a concrete mixer truck by police in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. DSP Umakant Chaudhary says, "They were travelling from Maharashtra to Lucknow. The truck has been sent to a police station & an FIR has been registered". pic.twitter.com/SfsvS0EOCW— ANI (@ANI) May 2, 2020
And now it appears that the 'helping hand' the government extended, came at a cost, literally.