Despite assurances by state governments, Migrant workers head home due to a lack of trust.
India was put under a 21-day lockdown last year at the end of which migrant workers from all over the nation rushed to their nearest railway stations in an attempt to go to their homes as fear of another longer lockdown loomed. The longer lockdown was placed and the migrant workers were chased off by the police from the railway stations and bus stands. With lockdowns in multiple states including Delhi and Mumbai, the biggest hubs of migrant workers, workers are getting flashbacks from last year.
Grueling stories of lakhs of migrant workers leaving the city, struggling to return to their homes were heard everywhere. But this time, government officials and experts say that the exodus will not be as large as last year. This is partly because migrant workers are reluctant to go through the same traumatic experiences. Last year, the workers went through physical and mental fatigue caused by struggling to go home and later coming back to find new jobs. Some are hesitant to go back because of the ridicule they had to face when they came back to the cities once the lockdown was lifted.
Shishir Joshi, the co-founder of Project Mumbai, an NGO that has worked on various social issues arising out of the Covid pandemic, said while talking to a leading daily, “This time, the exodus is also not as high as last year because the lockdown is not as severe and has not fully sunk in. Many in the slums feel that livelihood, in whatever form, is more important than their health. Last year, lockdown to the virus, everything was new and scary.”
The lockdowns in all the states are less harsh than last year. Several economic activities that were not allowed last year have been allowed to take place. Restaurants are permitted delivery services, and hawkers are allowed to give takeaways. E-commerce companies, construction work, drivers, domestic help, and so on are all permitted to work despite the lockdown.
All this has made the lockdown a little easier for the workers, but hundreds of distressed workers reached bus stops in Delhi after CM Arvind Kejriwal announced a 6 day “short lockdown”. The Delhi Government had requested the workers to not leave the city as it was going to be a temporary lockdown and going back home would be futile. But the workers cried that the government should have given more time before announcing the lockdown. They said that it is costing them 10 times more to return to their home towns and villages as buses have increased the fare due to the sudden surge in demand.
Migrant workers complained that the government buses are overcrowded while private bus operators are overcharging. “We are daily wagers, the chief minister should have given us some time before announcing the lockdown,” one of the migrant laborers told news agency ANI during their long wait at the bus station. “It takes us ₹200 to reach home, but they are charging ₹3,000 to ₹4,000 now, how will we go home?” they added. The lockdowns have not only made the migrant workers unemployed but have also put them at grave risk of coronavirus disease. With hundreds of people gathering at bus stops and train stations, Covid-19 protocols and social distancing went for a toss.
Migrant workers all over the nation are struggling to go back home like last year. The restrictions are less severe but the workers do not trust the government. The 21-day lockdown was supposed to end on 14 April 2020 but it continued for months. Only on May 1st, the Centre had started operating special Shramik Trains to transport migrant workers. The people believe that lockdowns would be extended once again and they would be stuck in big and expensive cities, jobless and penniless. They want to go back home as soon as they can to at least minimize their expenses. The state governments like the Centre last year have failed the migrant workers.
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