A couple of weeks ago on Labour Day, every company with a social media account put up images, videos, even memes thanking their workers that had stood with them through their successes and we all applauded them for recognising the efforts of these workers.
Which was highly hypocritical because a majority of this country's workers were walking thousands of miles home because the lockdown had forced them out of jobs, which meant they had run out of food, water, and shelter for their families.
That was a month after the country was given a 4-hour notice before a blanket lockdown was enforced. It has been another two weeks since. They are still walking home in large numbers amidst the threat of COVID-19, but more importantly for them, starvation, getting beaten up by cops, getting run over by locomotives among other things are bigger threats.
Provisions for them to travel back home were arranged by the centre and various states weeks after the actual lockdown happened. Now, any sane civilised society would make sure this damage was minimised. But hey, in states like Gujarat, we charged them for the train fares as well.
It didn't stop there either.
In Uttar Pradesh, migrant workers who had returned home were sprayed with disinfectants meant for cleaning vehicles.
More than 10,000 Muslim migrant workers residing in Jaipur who have only been given dry ration packets since the nationwide lockdown, also alleged that when they looked for food, the cops beat them up with lathis.
In Karnataka, they were not even being allowed to go back home, which rightfully resulted in allegations of bonded labour, forcing the government to quickly take a U-turn.
More recently a train ran over 16 migrant workers, including children in UP. 6 more were driven over by a bus in Muzaffarnagar, while 14 others died in MP & UP.
We don't even know the names of these people. Numbers and statistics in reports that have already been forgotten- that is what remains of their memory.
Even as recently as today, a video of stale rice allegedly being served to migrant workers in Karnataka went viral.
Now, these are the stories you know. There are literally hundreds of more such tales of horror and indignity that we have no idea about and very likely will never hear of.
That is the dystopian reality we are living in.
COVID-19 has not only exposed the flaw in our system of governance and our healthcare facilities but also revealed a deep-seated moral bankruptcy in a society that has no empathy for the disenfranchised.
So much so that when news reports about a migrant worker carrying his pregnant wife and child on a cart for 650 km went viral, here's how a lot of people reacted.
BTW, the central government still hasn't addressed the fatal problems migrant workers have been facing since the lockdown.
And if that wasn't enough, state governments, one after another, are going back on labour laws that had taken decades to even exist. All in the name of bringing the economy on track?
If it isn't clear yet, let me help you understand this. They are taking away basic rights from the poorest section of the society so that big companies would be attracted to invest in these states!
Really? That's how you rescue the economy? How about you raise the tax on the top 1%? After all, you have waived thousands of crores of loans of billionaires so that they would be kind enough to let that money trickle down to the little guys. I mean, this is as good a time as any for them to be paying back to the country.
What happens when UP, MP and Gujarat stomp down on labour laws is that it ensures competition among more states to eliminate such laws. Thus, the poor working conditions of labour WILL deteriorate further.
The people, from the unorganised sector, most of whom already live substandard lives and do not even receive minimum wage, forget acess to habitable conditions and social security, will be forced to work for far less. We are for all purposes, pushing them off a cliff.
The truth is, we have been exploiting these people for decades, centuries even. While they build the houses we live in and clean the toilet we shit in, we have been condemning them to fate while we rise up in society.
How else would you explain India having the fourth-highest number of billionaires in the world when our global ranking in terms of per capita income is so shit?
Years ago, the anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilisation in a culture.
What do you think the answer was? Tools, weapons, simple machinery like a wheel, perhaps! Well, according to Mead, it was the fossil of a human thigh bone with a healed fracture wound aged about 15,000 years ago.
The significance of that repaired bone was that it meant someone had stayed back to care for the injured long enough for the bone to heal. Others must have provided shelter, protection, food and drink over an extended period of time for this kind of healing to be possible.
No animals would survive a broken femur in the wild. Their packs, pride, herds would leave them to die. But we knew better. We did better. We need to do better.