All human rights, democratic rights and Gandhian organisation with support from few trade unions came forward and did a 30km long footmarch from Bhubaneswar to Cuttack city in Odisha. On this scorching summer day of 31st May at temperature above 40 degree near about 30 people dared to walk the distance. All of them had placards written, ‘Workers have built the nation, are demanding for justice now’, ‘Oh government! Stop hunger of migrant workers’, ‘All workers should reach home safely’, ‘Food, water and health care for all migrant workers, Our demands’ etc.
For alleviating the fear to death due to this virus the central government announced lockdown without any proper research and strategy. This caused millions and millions wage-workers workless and jobless. It was difficult to accept indifferent attitude of both the governments towards the migrant workers though they are the reason behind their plight. And also it was extremely difficult to reach all hungry migrant workers and to provide food for them who were passing the state.
Little relaxation in lockdown brought an opportunity to gather and show our dissatisfaction. Several intellectuals, journalists and young activists joined with Padayatra. They were shouting slogans, “give food, water and shelter freely and with honour”, “peasants and workers are real builders of the nation”, “Oh central and state government! Don’t hide your face and don’t go away from your responsibility” etc.
This was organised by Gandhi Shanti Pratisthan, Rastriya Yuva Sangathan and Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakha Sangathan, Odisha. All other trade union leaders from AICTU, CITU and AICCTU had sent their representatives.
All of them gave a voice against 12 hours working day. They demanded before the government to open free food centre at different places, improve the condition of quarantine centres, Better pay for the workers in their respective villages, public medical care, free education to their children etc.
Just after the rally, the media had asked representatives of both ruling parties BJP and Biju Janata Dal the ruling in Odisha. The BJP state general secretary accused the organisers, “shedding crocodile tears”. He also warned the organisers, “not to be engaged with any sabotaging process and not to join with anti-national groups”. He said, “Already 50 lakhs workers have reached their home states”. The BJD minister said, “The government has been doing lot of work. Simply accusation of not doing anything is unaccepted”. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SnaJh1J6v8&feature=youtu.be)
Probably the BJP government has no idea even if 50 lakh workers have reached home (on their own expenses and without food and water on their way) then what percent it would be of total migrant workers. If we go by NSS (National Sample Survey) data of 2007-08 there are 24.37 crore migrant workers were working in different parts of the country. Then as per BJP’s state general secretary just 2% migrant workers have reached home.
The UPA government did migrant worker census in 2011. The government knows the exact number of migrant workers and it knows where they are working largely. But neither during UPA time nor in this period of BJP, this migrant workers census report has been published.
The organisers of the Padayatras had blamed the government, “When thousands and thousands of migrant workers are passing through Bhubaneswar by walking, cycling, on open trucks or in buses none of the governments, both state and central, are least concerned about their plight”.
Those workers were expressing happiness when a volunteer gives them a small packet of food or a water bottle on roadside at Cuttack city. “We have been coming from Chennai/Bangalore/ Pondicherry/ Ernakulum. But since two or three days we had no food”. Some workers say, “It is the public who are only providing food, water and giving space to sleep on whatever way.” All these volunteers were at front of the Padayatra.
These migrant workers are human beings and have constitutional rights to live happily. They are not simple ‘producer of commodities’. What the government has already done for them is not important why the citizens are dying without food and due to negligence should be important for a government.
Deba Ranjan is a social activist