Mahanirban Calcutta Research group

 

COVID 19 and Migrant Workers

Introduction

COVID 19 and Migrant Workers
 

Introduction


Migrant workers are the most at risk in India due to the COVID 19. Apart from obvious health risk, a nationwide shutdown means economic precarity for these workers who are mostly daily wage labourers. A collection of news articles by various sources are collected by the Calcutta Research Group which highlight the distress of the migrant workers in the time of the global pandemic.

India has about 120 million migrant labourers, according to the labour rights group Aajiveeka. From losing income to leaving for home in a rush to facing police brutality, these workers are facing various perils.

In the attached articles we can see stories of various workers from urban centres like Delhi or Mumbai either lamenting the loss of livelihood or facing problems while going home. For example, a story on Reuters from March 21, shows how thousands of poor workers were heading back to their villages from Mumbai in packed trains causing fear that their exodus could carry the virus back to their villages. Social distancing for these poor workers fleeing hunger and joblessness is not an option.

Pappu Yadav, a native from the eastern state of Bihar who drives an autorickshaw in Delhi said he shares a small room with three other migrant workers in the outskirts of the city. He witnessed a dip in his income resulting in his family borrowing money from neighbours to survive.

While some workers went back to their respective villages where they do not have to pay rent and the cost of living is low, many workers did not yet leave their workspace in fear of a complete collapse in income.

"I earn 600 rupees every day and I have five people to feed. We will run out of food in a few days. I know the risk of coronavirus, but I can't see my children hungry," Ramesh Kumar, a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh told BBC in Delhi. He stayed back in the hope of some income.

A complete 21 days nationwide lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24. Many workers from Rajasthan working in Gujarat had to leave for their home when they heard the news. However, the lack of transport compelled them to walk for days to reach home. Pictures of the workers walking with their kids and families without food or water have been reported by various sources along with the police brutality they faced. Videos have surfaced on social media and news sites that show police have been beating up or making the workers go through some form of physical punishment for not following the lockdown without regard for the fact that these workers are not on the streets out of choice but out of compulsion. A complete nationwide shutdown which has been increased till May 3, has brought panic and fear for the future which overshadows the fear of COVID 19. Sanjay Sharma, a taxi driver in Mumbai, originally from Himachal Pradesh while talking to Reuters, said, “Some people will die of the virus. The rest of us will die of hunger.”

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