Miserable conditions of migrant Indian laborers

Posted by Navdeep Singh on May 21, 2020

Miserable conditions of migrant Indian laborers

Migrant workers are the backbone of India's economic wheel. If I am not wrong then this is the same story for most of the countries where laborers play a vital role. Migrant workers are the most effected community due to this coronavirus pandemic.

India is a very large economy with diverse regions and various demographics. In north India, the laborers come mainly from states like UP, Bihar, Uttarakhand after leaving their native places, they migrate to other states to work. These workers find jobs easily in other states in sectors like farming , different industries. Because these industries require lot of manpower.

My home state Punjab majorly depends on these migrant workers. Punjab produces a significant share of India’s food grain and contribute a major chunk of wheat and rice stock held by the Central government. Due to this, Punjab always requires a hard working laborers who can work in the field during sowing and harvesting season. In Punjab we have another city named Ludhiana which is called Manchester of India because of production of hosiery products and it heaving depend on migrant workers mainly

Amid these unprecedented situation and lockdown, all the industry and agricultural activities closed down by the government to acid rise of covid-19 patients. Most of the migrant workers are daily wagers and their source of income is stopped and they have no savings to live without earning any penny. They have their expenses like feeding up their family, paying rents which become extremely hard for them because they do not have earnings. As per as transportation is concerned trains and inter state buses are not allowed to ply. This doesn’t leave them with any conveyance hence left to pack their bags and cover the distance by foot or bicycle and we are talking about distance of not about 10-20kms, its 100s of miles. But the sorry state does not ends here.

There are daily incidents coming on the headlines, one of the incidents I read int he newspaper while entering into their native state UP, these migrant workers treated like animals. The medic officials covered in a protective kit sprayed the liquid directly on them as they sat on the ground. The reason for such an act was cited as that these workers could be a possible covid-19 carriers, However as per WHO guidelines blenching a someone clothers with this disinfectant will not kill the virus because virus could be already gone in their body.

Migrant Workers sprayed with disinfectant

This incident was shocking. Nevertheless, upon reaching their villages, they have no separate room to quarantine themselves, so village authorities forced them to settle outside the village.

There are more heart wrenching stories, one of the incident occurred in Aurangabad, Maharashtra state where 21 migrant workers decided to leave for their native places on foot at 7pm and after walking for 6-7 hours, they decided to take rest on railway tracks with the knowing that trains are not running these days. But 16 out of 21 unfortunate people crushed by a freight train in the early morning around 5:15.

They were with no food, no shelter, no money, no transport, and even without any help from the government, the only mistake they did was walk a long railway track just to get killed.

Although now recently, PM Narendra Modi has shown concern about the return of migrant workers. First is for states which the migrant workers have left. As economic activity resumes, there will be a severe shortage of labor in these regions. The second is for the home states, to which workers are returning. This is acknowledged already that these regions didn’t have enough jobs that’s why the migration happened in the first place. It is the duty of these states now to create jobs for them, as it is unlikely they will coming back soon to their working states. And the states must ensure that the return of workers does not lead to the spread of the disease, particularly in rural areas.

The relationship between the workers and employers is already lacking trust with the former thinking about how employers didn’t provide requisite food and cash to help them when they needed the most. Nonetheless, the relationship between the State and workers has also got compromised - with the later losing faith in the ability of governments to provide them a social safety net at a time of crisis.

However, the government declared some relief fund packages for the industries to support their economic health which will help them to revive their businesses back on track and hopefully the migrant workers will back to their working states. Of course, the new normal will be different from pre-lockdown period, industries and where ever they work must follow the protocols of social distancing, self hygiene and health.