SARs Cov-2, the virus that has caused the lockdown of 1.3 billion human beings in India has also caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis across the country. The International Labour Organization estimated in April that around 400 million workers were at risk of slipping into poverty due to sudden and unplanned stringent nationwide lockdown. However, a lockdown of such magnitude has caused ravage the millions of labours’ life at an unimaginable level. With that, it has also unfolded the bitter truth of the miserable plight and incompetency of the Central government in terms of administrating the whole situation.

The images of horror and inhumane sufferings of the migrant workers in the world’s 11th largest economy is the shameful and disgraceful blow to our civilized society. Their desperate attempt to return home made them walking down hundreds of miles away (with bags perched on their heads and children in their arms) on the stony railway track and streets in the hot sunlight. Not a single major mitigation measure is being taken by the Central government for them who have been serving this country with their sweat and blood for years and years, and today they are left with no work, no food, and no shelter or no transportation for an uncertain period. The lockdown has also proved that how hollow and merciless our cities are. How selfish and self-centered we the human being are. Today, we have crossed all the boundaries of inhumanity. Every mourn of a child, women and a desolate one walking on the streets with an empty stomach is nothing but murder to the morality of humankind.

In such a gruesome situation, the privileged among us are engaged in criticizing the migrant workers rather than questioning on the negligence and cruel nature of the Central government in terms of protecting the lives of migrant workers from death, hunger, and starvation.

Most importantly, it did not end there, amidst the persistent misery of migrant workers into the third spell of the nationwide lockdown, the accordance of approving ordinance by Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and now Karnataka government for suspending all labour laws barring three for next three years remain an utter apathy that bordering on contempt. It is just a step of dehumanizing the poor. At the time when the migrants are fighting a tough battle of life and death, the government at the Centre has taken the strategy of letting its pliant state governments use this pandemic crisis as a shield for secluding labours from their rights of living a secured and dignified life by implementing such anti-people and anti-worker autocratic measures. Naturally, the burning question is: how could the erosion of labour rights be possible without parliamentary debate? And, is the Supreme Court in a position to uphold the government action as an unlawful invasion of civilian rights? Is this ordinance not against the eight essential core standards of the International Labour Organization which are mostly ensured liberty to the migrant workers to choose employment while recovering after any disaster?

Regardless of that, the dilution of labour laws is a gross violation of the fundamentals rights and the Directive principle of State Policy of the labour provided by the Indian constitution. The fundamental rights of the workers such as article 14, article 19, article 21, and article 23 are going to be violated. Similarly, the Directive Principles of State Policy that uphold certain specific rights under Part IV of the Constitution such as article 39 (a), article (39-A), article 41, article 42, and Article 43 are under endangered. Further, this move will not only violate the various Home Ministry directives and State ordinances in India’s own Constitution but also its international commitment.
Thus, the exemption of labour laws to stimulus economic and industrial development is just an attempt made to extremize the exploitation of daily wage workers. And, it will drive Indian companies to avoid hiring permanent employees and will create an open platform to enslave the labours. The heartless capitalists who refused to pay wages for March, not even paid for the days the labours had worked, are now seeking advantage of sucking remaining blood through diminishing their basic human rights.

Apparently, the government along with industry leaders acutely denied giving respect and dignity the labours deserve as fellow humans. And, they are always being treated as a resource to be fulfilled the endless desire of money-launderers and greedy politicians. In addition to that, many state governments on the request of the ruthless businessman have extended daily working hours from 8 to 12 without amending the Factories Act in a view to revitalize businesses and the economy from the impact of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, various organizations such as All-India Trade Union Congress, the All-India United Trade Union Centre, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, etc. have raised concerns over the extension of working hours. Central trade unions in India said that it is an inhumane crime and violation of the Right to Freedom of Association (ILO Convention 87) and Right to Collective Bargaining (ILO Convention 98). But at the outset, it is not what organizations said about the stretching working hours, but as a human’s conscience, we need to make it understand that the workers are also human beings and they too have a life and family. On top of that, India is geographically located in Torrid Zone (23.5° north and 23.5° south of the equator) which is essentially representing a very hot and humid climate causing an unfavorable working condition. In these circumstances, 12 hours working will drive them into a state of ill health, fatigue, and exhaustion.

However, in this scenario when the country is an unprecedented state of emergency, the Central Government along with the State Government must release an adequate relief package on an urgent basis to prevent further deaths and inhume-suffering of millions of migrant workers. Indeed, the Prime Minister has miserably failed to anticipate the severe consequences of sudden and unplanned nationwide lockdown. Further, it is also a fact that he has not taken any comprehensive mitigation measures for workers and left them in hostage. Some initiatives which have been taken are also facing challenges in implementing at the ground levels. It is also evident that there is a huge mismatch between the Centre and the State Governments in terms of administrating the situation. Thus, it is the utmost importance to establish a strong coordination and governance system at multi-stage levels to deal with this pandemic crisis escalated across the country.

Besides these, the exemption and dilution of labour laws cannot be the remedy to revitalize the industry and economy of the country. It is absolutely a violation and breakdown of fundamental rights of the labours ensured by the constitution. Again, the pandemic crisis cannot be used as an excuse to dehumanize and enslave the labours. The migrant labours are the most important element of our society and hence without their safety and well-being, the country cannot be glorified.

Shahid Akhter is a Ph.D. scholar at the school of Humanities and Social Sciences, Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, Hyderabad, India. He is also a former student of Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. Currently, he is working on “Disaster Risk and Its Assessment”. Besides his research and academic interests, he also keeps passion in philosophical discussions and various other societal issues and enjoys writing blogs, commentaries, and short articles on them.


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One Comment

  1. Well said. I have been portraying Gandhi in the US and India for 18 years. I am a justice and peace activist for 55 years when I became a Catholic priest on May 22, 1965. Now, I am just Bernie but called American Gandhi. Gandhi said every person no matter what class or caste is equal as a human being, each with right of equal pay. Both India and the US are putting chains on the citizens.