Disturbing news of violence committed by migrant workers wanting to return home are coming from certain parts of the country, especially Gujarat. Some incidents have also been reported from Uttar Pradesh, where workers wanting to return home to Bihar not only indulged in violence, but also raised political slogans. Earlier too, in Gujarat’s Surat, major violence took place, with the police having to bring the situation under control by firing tear gas.
In Mumbai as well a serious conflagration was averted when thousands of migrant labourers congregated near a train station after rumours went round that trains would start to take them back home—of course this particular incident took place much before the Shramik Special trains were launched and states started bringing back their people from other states.
The underlying theme in all these cases is the pent-up frustration of those who are finding it hard to make two ends meet and believe that being in penury at home is better than being in penury in some far-off place. Having said that, violence cannot be condoned, even if it is committed by the poorest of the poor. So the law and order machinery has to be more than vigilant to ensure that such incidents do not take place.
And now that interstate transport—as well as intra state—is resuming in the fourth phase of the lockdown, it is expected that the movement of migrants will become smoother and not as physically challenging the way it is now. And even if certain states do not want such a resumption, it is incumbent on their part to ensure that their people reach home safely, for which all arrangements must be made.
However, there is another aspect to this humanitarian crisis which cannot be ignored in these trying times—the temptation to derive political mileage by certain political entities and interests by exploiting the sentiments of these desperate people. There is a very strong possibility that this violence may have been instigated by political actors in an attempt to show the ruling parties in some of the states in a bad light.
But then that is how it happens in most cases where violence and arson take place—there is always some political angle to it. These migrant workers comprise a huge vote bank and it’s but natural that there will be the temptation to exploit their anger and frustration to gain political dividends. But it is this temptation that must be curbed.
The country cannot afford any law and order problems at a time when it is battling a pandemic of serious proportions—a pandemic which is not only bringing disease and deaths but also devastation across India’s economic landscape. It is also hoped that now that the lockdown is being eased significantly, attempts will be made to hold back these migrants at their places of work, for they are key to restarting industrial and commercial activities in the country.