Monday, September 25, 2023

Pandemic: Havoc In The Life Of Migrant Labourers

By Jyostna Dey

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The novel coronavirus is not less than a world war, its effects are seen to be catastrophic which is though invisible but targeting and threatening the life of every single individual. 

Its disastrous effect has not left any Nations or continents untouched, its horrendous effect can be felt across the globe, but what even worsened the situation is that all this has disrupted the movement of essential goods, services and labourers. 

The food shortages and other problems associated with it has only aggravated the problem with every passing day. the already prevalent social inequalities have further amplified the effects of this contagious disease.

Whenever I switch on the T.V. the news headlines flash that how the poorest, the disadvantaged and the ignorant are the ones who are being mostly affected by this deadly disease, putting their and millions of others life at risk.

Even if we look back at history, some centuries ago of pandemic disease it is the poor who are at the higher risk of infection as they are the most vulnerable sect of the society.

These labourers lack health care facilities and the basic amenities of life to sustain, driving them to move back to their homeland/villages hence carrying these contagious diseases with them and spreading there too. 

Moreover, among these poor, the displaced migrant labourers are the worst exploited ones, they are mostly the daily wage earners who mainly endure confinements, insufficient access to treatments, living in an unsanitary condition. 

In this few days of lockdown, India has witnessed large scale attempts of migration. In a hope of returning to hometown, due to fear, anxiety, or lack of food being promised by the govt authorities but not being channelised through a proper plan, or maybe just because of the ignorance of these people.

These wage-labourers comprises about 85% of our Indian economy including the rickshaw pullers, maids, peddlers, day labourers and other daily wage earners. Country’s infrastructure mostly depends upon them as they are engaged in doing constructing metros lines, malls, hospital workers, hotels and multiplexes. They work as factory workers, delivery boys, cab drivers, loaders, vegetables and flower sellers, they mostly earn in cash and these kinds of group of people obviously can’t work from home. So from where their earnings will come? they are mostly the marginalised group who lacks all basic opportunities.

The night P.M. declared complete lockdown, these people started moving back to their villages as they could no longer afford to stay in a costly city like Delhi. As all the transportations like buses, trains, metros were at a halt. So some started to walk miles of kilometres or some decided to secretively flee in milk container trucks but were caught by the policemen. when few started walking, they were joined by millions hence breaking the norm of social distancing which is held crucial in stopping the spread of COVID19. In this, at least 20 of them died on the way itself.

This scene of millions of public gathering further startled the authorities, no one could have imagined such a reaction. Frantic steps were taken by the government for sealing of borders to maintain social distancing to prevent any further spread of the virus. The government was assisted by the voluntary organisation though. A very few state governments provided buses for the migrant. However, this lockdown though a necessity but is not operable by the workers and they found it challenging to cope up with this uneven social and economic condition.

They are among those invisible citizens of India whose voice often goes unheard, though the government is having various welfare schemes for people below the poverty line they don’t even fit into that. Meanwhile, shelters for these migrants have been set up, who cant earn or couldn’t go back to their home.

From a recent survey, it has been found that almost 40% migrant labourers don’t have access to ration and other necessary items which are being given by the government, out of which only a few are getting these benefits of welfare schemes. 

Along with that, they are said to be running out of money to support their household basic expenses. Another important factor triggering this economically weaker section is debt anxiety, many workers also have several loans to repay, which further exacerbated their problem. 

Although the Indian government is providing extended help to them and has even increased the rice and wheat relief packages. This pandemic desolates the normal life of the ordinary people, it has not remained limited to mortality now but has extended to ethical, social, cultural and economic realms as well.

In this sudden dispersion of the migrant workforce, the presence of this “unseen citizens” is being felt in the national discourse. But India would have been in a better position if the plight of these labourers would have been heard and attended by the government before itself. And if proper planning would have been initiated before declaring the lockdown, then the situation would have been quite different as it would have provided them with a sense of hope and security in this period of uncertainty.

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