The countrywide lockdown may have brought life to a standstill for India. While businesses have been hit everywhere, the working class has been the worst affected, especially the migrant lot. Migrant workers across the country have found themselves uprooted with nowhere to go.
In Delhi’s Badli, about 100 migrants working in crockery factories live along the railway tracks. Not very long ago, trains that went to their homes plied these
tracks but now it has been days since they could safely step out of their homes. “More than the fear of coronavirus, we are scared of the police.
They beat us up if they see us. We plead with them to let us access the market, ration shops or even the police station. What we get in reply is only humiliation,” said Balwant Kumar from Bihar’s Gaya. The labourers allege they have not been paid their dues for the work they did before the lockdown, nor have they got any money during it. Seeing the crowd and learning that the media was there, a few women came with their children. “Look at her, she’s not had milk in days.
We get food but we have to go stand in queues every day. Do you think it is easy to do? There are times when we end up eating once every two days. Even in those queues, they ask us to maintain social distancing and that sometimes leads us
to getting meals at 4 in the afternoon,” said one of the
They then revealed that people were taking money from them to “apply and get” ration cards. When told they didn’t need ration cards to get food, they were
surprised. As the conversation went on, the complete lack of any protection to this group starts showing up. Their contractors haven’t paid them, while others are liv-
ing in homes rented to them by the same contractors and rent has to be paid regularly.
The Central government has, after nearly 45 days of lockdown, opened up the railway lines for the movement of migrant workers back to their home states. The move has not done much to lessen their concerns. “We have to apply online or go to the police station to apply for these trains. In the stations, we are turned away and when we raise our voices, we get lathis in return.
The online portal is an even bigger problem, the few of us who can access the internet keep telling us that the site isn’t working or that it refuses to show options for the train,” said a 22-year-old labourer. These migrant workers are finding it hard to survive being completely cut off from their families. There are many dependent on these men and women for their existence back home.
As an elderly man put it,“Even if they restart work, do you think we will get the money we are owed? If it does restart, then we have to decide on staying back or going to see our families. All I want to ask is, who will the government open work for when labourers have all died of hunger?”