Wage and work waned as India declared a 21-day lockdown within a four-hour notice on 24 March in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The decision took a heavy toll on India’s migrant workers as they struggled to survive hunger and loss of income.
As of recently, the country has reported 1,251 cases with 32 deaths and the numbers show no sign of decreasing. The shut down of transport gave millions of migrant workers the only option of walking on foot from the big cities to their villages.
They journeyed their way towards their homes on empty stomachs under the heat of the scorching sun.
These informal workers are essentially the cornerstone of the ‘big-city economy.’ Their jobs range from building houses, cooking food, delivering takeouts, making automobiles, plumbing toilets, cutting hair in salons, to name a few. In hopes of breaking free from their poverty-struck homes, 100 million of them are estimated to reside in mostly slum areas.
With their workplaces closed down and contractors disappeared, the workers were rendered hopeless.
Turned into refugees, hundreds of thousands of them tried to return back home in desperate attempts to acquire comfort and food.
Indian state government sprung into action to arrange basic necessities. However, controlling the spread of the virus could only become harder as workers were shoved against each other in the buses that came to transport them.
Earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had apologised for the lockdown. But he and his state government, as several media sources point out, were criticized for mishandling the crisis and not expecting the worst out of the pandemic.
“Wanting to go home in a crisis is natural. If Indian students, tourists, pilgrims stranded overseas want to return, so do labourers in big cities.
They want to go home to their villages. We can’t be sending planes to bring home one lot, but leave the other to walk back home,” tweeted Shekhar Gupta, founder and editor of The Print.
These migrant workers, in thousands, will travel in congested buses or by foot and return home to their families usually with aging parents.
According to an Indian government report, 56 districts in nine Indian states make up half of inter-state migration of male workers. This could make curbing the contagion difficult as thousands of migrant workers return to their homes.
Nitin Pai of Takshashila Institution, a think tank told the BBC, “People are forgetting the big stakes amid the drama of the consequences of the lockdown: the risk of millions of people dying.
There too, likely the worst affected will be the poor.”