In the whirlwind of news that has been assaulting the senses ever since coronavirus attacked, one term has been popping out more than the rest, at least in regard to India – ‘migrants workers’, the worst-affected of the lot, stuck in a nightmare without money, resources, or a home. They’ve been the most tragic victims of this lockdown, and despite growing outrage at their treatment – still face a massive lack of support from the powers that be.
In the most recent incident, at least 15 migrant workers in Maharashtra who had been walking along rail tracks were run over by a goods train after they slept on the tracks due to exhaustion.
It’s unimaginable, the kind of suffering these people are going through. All of them were workers of a factory, going back to their states on foot. It’s not like they wanted to sleep on the tracks, they barely had any option.
And that’s the actual issue here – why don’t they get any relief from the government? Why are they forced to walk 1000s of kilometres just to go home? Their condition is so bad, we’ve dubbed them India’s invisible citizens.
These are the people who make our daily life possible. Whatever little supplies and resources we manage to obtain, our main necessities, are thanks to these people, and yet they get no actual appreciation, or better yet – monetary and physical relief.
In fact, not only are they not being helped at this most trying of times, their rights are literally being taken away. UP just suspended 38 labour laws for 3 years to boost investment. That’s all but 4 labour laws.
The move is a way to attract new companies to invest in the state and make up for losses due to the coronavirus. But what about the human cost? These migrants have been suffering enough, and the new labour law changes will allow more factories to operate without following safety and health standards, apart from basically giving companies free reign over labourers. It is a black law that many are viewing as proof that the government only cares about big business.
Another example of just how little thought is given to the suffering of migrant workers is them being charged for trains tickets to go home. This decision was later changed after massive outrage and opposition.
The fact that it wasn’t free in the first place is very telling of just how little care is shown for these people. They are poor, and currently have no means of transport, no source of income, and face various problems. Despite the presence of the PM Cares fund, and various other sources of money, they were still being charged to get on trains home? What is the point of the relief money if it won’t be used for that very purpose?
Soon after it was decided that trains would take migrants home, Karnataka’s BS Yeddyurappa government stopped train services for migrants claiming they were needed for construction activities. This is akin to bonded labour, forcing workers to stay.
10 special trains from Karnataka taking home lakhs of migrants stranded by the coronavirus lockdown were cancelled, basically locking them in. The Yeddyuruppa government claimed the move will help migrant labourers ‘restart their dreams’, but shouldn’t that be the decision of the people themselves? How can you hold lakhs of people captive just to fulfill construction activities?
Considering all these heart-wrenching instances, it’s easy to see why India’s migrant workers are considered invisible citizens. Their needs are not met, their rights are snatched away, and despite being the worst affected during this pandemic, they appear to receive the least relief. They need transport, shelter, guarantees, and economic support on a holistic basis, and we have let them down.