While PM Modi Promised Nobody Will Remain Hungry, Migrant Workers Walk Home Amid Lockdown In India
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown in the country, suspending all inter-city trains and public bus services across the country, the decision triggered a mass exodus of migrant workers.
Lakhs of workers who run food stalls, drive public transport, work in other small businesses fled for their homes in rural India. Factories and establishments were shut and construction activities came to a halt. Many of the workers who wished to return to their homes, began their long journeys home on foot after the sudden shutdown brought the nation to a standstill.
People in long queues, with bags and luggage were seen walking along the edges of national highways of several states. The sudden reactive measures has a major impact on the most vulnerable in the country.
"Most of us work here at tea stalls or food joints. Since everything is shut, our employers have asked us to come back only after things get normal, as they don't have money to pay us. Since buses and other modes of transport are not available, we have decided to walk to reach home," one of the workers said.
In Uttar Pradesh, some migrant workers planned their 36-hour journey on foot with few breaks. "I don't want to do this but I have no option," Awadhesh one of the workers in UP told NDTV.
A young boy was seen crying because there was no way home and no way to escape police who thrashed him. The young boy asked: "How will we go, we can't go by flight, can we?"
Amid all the panic, migrant workers thronged railway stations and jumped on any train that headed towards their home.
Videos of people in large groups leaving on over-crowded trains from parts of Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu went viral. Those who could not leave for their homes or villagers were stuck with no work, no money and no roof over their heads.
Scene in #India CC 332. Migrant workers returning home after Jobs dry up in #Pune. 3/20/20. This will be a huge catastrophe of humongous proportions if even 1 is infected in a jam-packed train to #Patna. God bless us all! #coronavirus #covid19 #sarscov2 pic.twitter.com/cHyoV4OUg7— YB (@YBKnows) March 22, 2020
Not just the loss of work and wages, but also a fear of falling sick and dying among strangers, compelled migrant workers to flee for their homes.
The tragedy of #Lockdown21 - this 20 yr old labourer is walking from his factory in unnao to his village in barabanki , 80 kms ! He cannot stay put at his place of work , as @narendramodi has appealed , because his factory owners won't permit him and others to stay on ! Pls hear. pic.twitter.com/ewkGPg1uwi— Alok Pandey (@alok_pandey) March 25, 2020
When PM Modi addressed the nation for the second time and urged people to "stay where you are." Thousands of workers understood it as staying at bus stations, or at empty railway stations, or on streets and highways as they had nowhere else to go.
The prescription to contain the spread of virus and save the people of the country somewhere cut the country's poor adrift.
While the government has promised that no one will remain hungry, the unprecedented lockdown has left lakhs in the unorganized sector without any shelter, transport or ways to earn and survive.
COVID-19 has infected as many as 560 in India and left 11 dead. Worldwide, the pandemic has caused over 14,000 deaths. While we hope to reduce the numbers and eradicate the virus completely in the coming 21 days, the next three weeks could only get worse as the labourers and workers from the informal sector continue their walk back home.