Imact of lockdown on migrant workers: View from Delhi

authored by Khushboo Singh

Manoj, a migrant labourer from Bihar was waiting for food standing in long queue outside Delhi's Badli government school like many others said:
“ई रिक्शा चलाता हूँ, घर में कमाने वाला अकेला हूँ,कुछ रुपया नहीं बचा पाता| आज अफ़सोस हो रहा है कि अगर कुछ और काम ही कर लेता तो थोड़ा पैसा ही बचा लेता जो इस वक़्त में काम आता| अभी तो बस जो यहाँ से मिल जाए वो ले जाता हूँ और घर में पहले का थोड़ा राशन है | उसको बना लेते हैं , क्या करें| 9 लोगों का परिवार है और राशन खरीदने के लिए पैसे नहीं हैं तो बस ऐसे ही काम चला रहे हैं|”
COVID-19, new disease of the coronavirus family has engulfed the entire world. This pandemic has brought almost the whole world to a standstill but it has brought many different challenges for those who were already on the margins. As the lockdown was announced on 24th March, lakhs of migrant labourers started moving towards their native villages by foot across the country. They were to cover a distance of 200 - 1000 kms or more. With no buses and/or trains running, they were forced to cover 1000 miles distance by walking. But many others who remained in the city were hoping that the lockdown would be over by 14th April and till then they would somehow manage. 

But as the lockdown period was extended to 3rd May, it has added to their worries. The migrant labourers and the challenges they are facing during this lockdown are countless. These challenges include-
•         It’s been a month of lockdown and people are running out of cash for fulfilling even basic needs like ration and gas cylinder.
•         The food provided is proving increasingly insufficient at schools and many people have to return without any food or enough food. There are families in which some or the other member has been skipping one meal or the other.  Many of those who are taking food from centres are complaining that quantity of food is not sufficient for a family of six or seven or ten. Many schools are reporting finishing up of ration before everyone could get it.
•         No separate provisions have been made yet for providing nutritious food for children, weakening their immunity.
•         Many people are not able to fill up e- coupons forms; either because they have no access to smart phones or because some or all the family members don’t have Aadhaar or some other issue. People have been spending Rs.50 - 100 at the Cyber Cafe to get their forms filled.

Sandeep, another migrant worker asked me-
“दीदी, ये lockdown 3 मई तक ख़त्म हो जाएगा न| अब यहाँ रूम का किराया नहीं दे पाऊंगा अपने परिवार को लेकर घर जाऊँगा| आप पता कर लेंगी क्या ट्रेन के लिए.. सिवान जाना है|”

Govind , 18 year old boy came out of queue of hundreds of people and asked me -
दीदी आपको पता है क्या ट्रेन कब से चलेगी मुझे घर जाना है मै दसवीं कक्षा की परीक्षा देकर यॅहा  छुट्टी मे कमाने आया था, मै फर्रुखाबाद, उत्तर प्रदेश से हूँ, मेरे पापा किसान है, इसलिए हर गरमी की छुट्टी मे यहाँ कमाने आ जाता हूँ लेकिन इस बार लाकॅडाउन हो गया और मै यंही फस गया हूँ, आप बस मुझे घर पहुँचने में मदद कर दोगे क्या,आप सबकी मदद कर रहे हो,मेरी भी घर पहुँचने मे मदद कर दो बस दीदी।

Devandra, another migrant laborer  from bihar called me to ask about the status of his e-coupon for ration-
मैडम हमारे पास राशन के लिए कोई मैसज नही आया है अभी तक, आपको कुछ पता है क्या कब तक मिलेगा राशन। अब तो स्कूल से भी खाना लाने मे भी डर लगता है क्योकि ये बीमारी तो बढ ही रही है और मै तो बिहार से यॅहा आया, मुझे कुछ हो गया तो घर वालों को कौन देखेगा ।

Amidst such despair, the middle class from the same locality holds the view that everything is fine. They are disseminating their prejudices against migrant workers from their balconies. 

Middle class biased against migrant workers

A middle age man who introduced himself as a general secretary of a political party in Badli, Delhi told me not to help any migrant worker. When I asked him why? He said:
किसी को खाने की कमी नही है, इन सबके अकाउंट चैक करो ,सबके पास अकाउंट में 1,00,000-1,50,000 लाख पैसा होगा, लेकिन Free  का मिल रहा है तो बस लूटने आ जाते है। कुछ बच्चे पास मे खेल रहे थे, उन बच्चो की तरफ इशारा करते हुए बोले की देखो कैसे खेल कूद रहे है, बिना खाना खाए थोड़े ही खेल रहे होंगे।

As in some nearby societies, the middle class is trying to isolate itself by locking the gates of localities and at some places blocking the entry passages with stones. It has truly internalized social distancing in a way that the norm of social distancing has become a combination of physical, psychological and human distancing itself.

The communal hatred against Muslim migrant workers is evident in the way middle class started blocking their entry passage. This has led to further marginalization of the already marginalized workers. Some middle class colonies are only allowing one or two vegetables sellers in the locality. This pandemic is revealing deeply ingrained hatred, selfishness and hierarchy.
The lockdown is affecting everyone financially, economically and physically. Those who were on margins are most affected by it as these people are going through a daily survival challenge.  Some steps have been taken by the government to ensure food for migrant labourers but still a lot more needs to be done to ensure both good quality and quantity of food to every poor in general and migrant workers in particular. 

Some suggestions:
•         Supply at schools and number of disbursal centres should be increased
•         Arrangement for disbursing free milk and fruits to children should be done
•         Government should make arrangements at school centres for filling up forms for such people instead of leaving them on their own to do so


Muktimarg said…
Good expression of ground experience of relief works among the poor and needy people,facing lockdown.

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