The pathetic sight of a large number of migrant workers with famished children and spouses heading towards their far-off villages is really heart-moving. This has been going on ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the anti-coronavirus lockdown in his first address to the nation over two months back.
A number of accidents have since then occurred on the roads but there cent one that shook the nation took place on May 16 when two trucks carrying migrant workers from Rajasthan, Delhi and Ghaziabad collided under Auraiya police station at 3 am, killing 26 people. The police suspect the driver of the truck might have fallen asleep at the wheel,ramming into the other vehicle.
Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Odisha besides Jharkhand primarily feed the labour markets in Punjab, Maharashtra,Gujarat and the Southern states. More than 10 lakh people are stranded in various states.The migrant workers have had to pay a heavy price for the Modi government’s belated response and delayed running of Shramik Special Trains. I could see shock and anxiety writ large on their faces as they were confronted with uncertain tomorrows along with their families. They knew it would be a long arduous march of hours together under the scorching sun to reach their villages. It has been over two months of the ordeal with a number of accidents on the roads. Nothing can be more disquieting and shameful for the Modi establishment as the shadow of over 119 killed that marked the sixth anniversary of the BJP coming to power on May 16.
I am well aware of the fact that Prime Minister Modi is applauded globally for his handling of India’s Covid-19 crisis. I do not wish to delink myself from PM Modi’s global applause. However, a few questions do disturb me mentally about his initial responses to migrant workers’plight. It was much later that the Prime Minister came to terms with the ground realities. How come? Rightly or wrongly, I have always felt that despite his good intentions, PM Modi does not understand India’s harsh grassroots realities and the problems of the poor and needy persons.
What is particularly disquieting is hunger today seems to be a greater problem than the corona virus for most of the migrants as they are desperately trying to return to their homes in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand by an array of trucks, buses, auto-rickshaws and bicycles from their places of work. For truck rides they had to give drivers their hard-earned money for the trip back home. Why did not the authorities promptly take care of them? As it is, the pandemic seems to have shattered the poor migrants’ inertia for life. They take huge risks to reach home.
“Just look how they are going back”, a Madhya Pradesh policeman remarked, seeing the stranded and helpless workers. They walked andpedaled at night and slept through the day. “This is a humanitarian problem not a law and order one”. Indeed this is the worst kind of the humanitarian tragedy which is beyond the understanding of the ruling elite.
Amidst the on-going tragedy of migrant workers, we have also tounder stand the plight of Adivasis walking back to their villages in Chhattisgarh from Telangana and other cities in the country. Adivasi girls generally work in cities as domestic helps.
According to CPM leader Brinda Karat, the problems of Adivasi migrants are somewhat different than those of other workers. They are short term, often seasonal, and circulatory in nature both within the state and inter-state. Adivasi migration is mainly seasonal agricultural and construction work, work in brick kilns or manual workers in urban areas. A large number of Adivasis migrate for fishing in Maharashtra and other places” (The Hindu, May 12).
Brinda Karat is also of the view that the “lockdown has caused more suffering to Adivasis than the virus. What happens to Adivasi migrants when they get home “is a major concern since the health infrastructure in these areas is extremely poor”.
This is true. Adivasis are among the neglected lot of the country.They are exploited by the powers-that-be. I do not wish to seethe crocodile tears of our leaders. They are actually unconcerned about the Adivasis’ well being. What a pity! Nearly 46 per cent of rural Adivasis fall below the poverty line. They require special care. We have to ensure their empowerment and promote and protect their rights, lockdown or no lockdown!
Ground reports point to “a looming emergency of hunger and starvation”in several Adivasi areas. The Modi government should take note of the pathetic condition of Adivasis as a wake up call. Will he? I keep my fingers crossed. Apart from fighting Covid-19 crisis with a single-minded approach, we have to think of building a post-corona virus India on new lines. Bringing about a change will, of course, involve transitional pains and adjustments. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling elite will have to work out a new blueprint for India of tomorrow and set the right pace for social and economic justice for all sections of the population, especially the migrant workers and Adivasis, on egalitarian principles. This is a highly challenging task which has to be pursued vigorously.
In his book, “The Revolution in Revolution” Regis Debray wrote:“History advances in disguise; it appears on the stage wearing the mask of the preceding scene, and we tend to lose the meaning of the play. Each time the curtain rises, continuity has to be reestablished.The blame, of course, is not history’s, but lies in our vision,encumbered with memory and images learned in the past. We see the past superimposed on the present, even when the present is a revolution”.
We are probably not cut out for a revolution. Of course, there are serious signs of unrest. But, what is to be done if vision happens to be terribly blurred. For that matter, even the mask has lost the shine of the ‘preceding scene'. What is more, the pillars of governance happen to show signs of cracks.
Does it mean we should give in? Certainly not. We must keep our head high and not lose sight of the desired changes and the task ahead? We ought to have a fresh beginning with a reoriented system and set the right pace for good governance to tackle India’s formidable humanitarian challenges concerning Covid-19 and faster economic revival. Over to Prime Minister Modi.
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.