Confronting the crisis of internally displaced Indians

            corona migrant workers

India is currently facing a crisis which can escalate into a bigger catastrophe than COVID-19 and the consequences can be heart wrenching as we are already witnessing across the country. The exodus of the migrant population is of an unprecedented kind, triggered by the reckless and callous decisions taken by a senseless government at the Centre. Prime Minister Modi’s 8 p.m. address to the nation has emerged to be one of the dreaded moments in the history of the nation. Every time he begins his speech, Indians sit holding their breath, expecting the worst to befall on them. The memory of the demonetization is, no doubt, fresh in the minds of the people. COVID-19 resulted in a similar situation, and the lockdown for 21 days has opened up  pandora’s box for this nation.

While our prime minister shares animated videos on his exercise schedule titled ‘yoga with Modi’ for his middle-class and upper-class admirers, the rest of India, the poor, the migrant laborers from urban India die on the roads. They are compelled to walk hundreds of miles, with no food or job in the cities, post the lockdown for 21 days. With a population of more than a billion and millions of them being migrant laborers, the decision to lockdown the country is turning to be a brutal and inhuman act on the part of the government. The lockdown was, no doubt a hastily implemented decision, without proper planning or even a passing thought about the far-reaching consequences or the possibility of an immediate disaster as we are witnessing right now.

The extreme callousness with which these laborers and their families are treated is being reported from several parts of the country. The Central government has instructed the state governments to close their borders or to prevent them from leaving their homes. The instruction will further worsen the case of the migrants already on the road. We hear leaders suggesting closing up the borders of the states, we read about these people being subjected to sanitization processes where they are publicly bathed in sanitizers, we read about chief ministers who plan to isolate them in stadiums once they reach their states after an arduous journey by foot.  In this state of exception, they are treated as mere biological beings, their bodies totally under the control of the government machinery.

The pandemic has exposed the worst that governments are capable of and India leads by example in subjecting its own citizens to cruelty of an unprecedented kind. It is the poorest of the poor who are being subjected to this brutality and 22 of them have been reported killed, on their way home. Even as the central government remains responsible for this unplanned lockdown, without coordinating with the states or envisioning the problems it could trigger off in a vast and diverse country like India, Modi has refused to take responsibility and preferred to apologize for the difficulties caused to a large section of the population. For the prime minister, it is affective politics all the way!

Dehumanising the multitudes who are on a desperate journey to their native villages is what we witness in India now. The millions who have been subjected to this traumatic journey, which includes children as young as one year old, may survive it and live on with their lives of deprivation. Several of them might not have the strength and will to endure this long and excruciating travel by foot. Many of them might already have contracted the highly contagious virus and the close interactions with fellow travelers will result in a leap in the number of infected people in India. Above all, India will have displayed to the world, that our people, especially the poor, don’t matter to us and that a brutally insensitive and impulsive leadership can wreak havoc on any nation.

Swapna Gopinath  is Associate Professor of English



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