Migrant Population that counts for nothing —— Prem Verma

Prem Verma

Convenor, Jharkhand Nagrik Prayas
Ranchi, Jharkhand

I am a daily wage worker from Bihar who came to Mumbai in search for work so that I could earn some money and send a portion of the same to my family living in a village in Bihar miles away from Mumbai. The life in Mumbai has always been tough what with no decent place to stay within the money I earned every day. My own State Bihar has no work to give so that I could stay with my family in the village. I meet my family maybe once a year for a few days when I get leave to go back to my village. I own no farmland in my village. Others who own small plots cannot sustain themselves and their family and hence migrate to cities for additional income. This is our fate for generations and perhaps God willed it so.

When our Prime Minister announced the 21-day Lockdown on 23rd March and asked all the citizens to stay home, I was not sure which home he meant – my village home or Mumbai where I was working on daily wages. The answer became clear when my employer in Mumbai told me that –

  1. work for me was not available for the period of Lockdown

  2. no payment would be made until work restarted

  3. I would also have to quit the place I was staying in unless I continued to pay the rent

With these restrictions and a shortage of money my only option was to go back to the safety of my village and be with my family. All my employers were living in the comfort of their homes with their family. Then why not I?

Since all transport also had been covered under Lockdown, my only option was to walk the many kilometers home on foot. So I did along with many others.

What I did not anticipate was the fact that at State boundaries we were stopped and told to stop there until the 21-day Lockdown expired. We were assured that we would be given living accommodation, food, money, etc. for the period of Lockdown and once it was over we could go back to our village. There was no other alternative but to follow the order given and we complied under protest, mentioning that why we migrants were singled out for not going back to our family when others more fortunate were living comfortably with their families. Were we second class citizens under the Constitution?

The 21-day Lockdown for us was  a nightmare since we were herded into shelters across the country totally violating the Social Distance norms so much emphasized by our PM. Promised food was erratic at best with mostly one meal a day. While we ate we wondered what our wives and children would be eating in the village with the meager resources at their disposal. We went through this 21-day Lockdown with the hope that once it was over we could go back to our village finally and see our family.

Our PM’S announcement on the 14th of April (last day of the Lockdown) extending the Lockdown to 3rd May came as a shock to us since we were looking forward to going back to our village and being with our family. This was not the right thing to do and we had become collateral damage players in the war against Corona Virus.

Social distancing does not apply to where we are asked to stay; physical contact with one another ensures that Corona Virus if it is there is guaranteed and meager food weakens us against the fight against this pandemic.

How come no one in this country thinks about us as human beings and citizens with equal rights. All the States are afraid of the wave of migrants entering their State and they publically declare that this will mean spread of Corona Virus. In effect we have become carriers of Corona Virus and if we hopefully disappear the rest of the population will heave a sigh of relief.

Members of Parliament even in the Lockdown travel from Delhi to their Jharkhand constituencies by car with driver and bodyguard and this does not raise any eyebrow but our attempt at trans-border movement sparks a protest as if we are demons on the move. Does anyone feel how troubling it is to be away from your family in this epidemic? Perhaps not, since those living in comfortable houses with their family and having everything to eat as per their  choice can never imagine the misery and harassment that I as a migrant have been facing for the last few months and will be tortured for the months ahead. Could not the Government have made arrangements to transport us back to our villages, maybe using Army trucks, so that we could have also become equal participants in this fight against Corona Virus? For us hunger and anxiety are far greater viruses than Corona Virus. In the scheme of things we have already become expendable targets and our deaths do not count.

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