death of migrant workers coronavirus

It has been revealed in recently released statistics that over 8700 persons died on railway tracks during 2020. Officials have also stated that most of them are likely to be migrant workers walking along railway tracks while returning home.

This is also confirmed by the fact that most of the passenger trains were  cancelled during this year. Hence normally there would be much less of railway track related accidental deaths of people during this year.

However it is well-known that millions of migrant workers were forced to walk home for incredibly long distances this year, in many cases along with family members including small children, as lockdowns were announced very abruptly and they were suddenly in denial of essential needs like food and in several cases shelter as well.

As they started their long trek home, many of them on almost empty stomachs, they faced harassment from the police on the main roads. Several times they were asked to go back, but there was nowhere to go back to. Hence a significant number of them shifted to walking along railway tracks. They also thought that the tracks will guide them along the shorter route to their destination.

It is among from among these workers walking back home that most of the over 8700 persons who perished in year 2020 on railway tracks are being counted. Were they, exhausted and with lowered response reflexes, mostly mowed down by the goods trains or special trains coming in at fast speed? This appears quite likely to have resulted in several deaths, but that their number would be in the range of around 7000 or so is simply too tragic. Official data describes this overall death toll ( including migrant workers and others) to be over 8700, and if anything this is likely to be an underestimate.

Apart from those migrants who were run over by trains, what about the injured whose number is stated to be around one-tenth of the mortality estimate, almost certain to be an underestimate. What about those whose dead bodies that were never found , or never identified? What about those who did not die in an accident but were so hungry and exhausted after covering a certain stretch of the journey that they just could not continue walking beyond this point? What happened to them?

The number of walking back workers who would have found themselves in such a situation is likely to have been significant, considering the long distances that had to be covered, in some cases around five hundred kms or even more, and the very few resources they had. Along railway tracks perhaps they did not have to face those who asked them to go back, but what about the other risks and dangers of walking on more secluded and wilderness areas? What happened when completely exhausted workers managed to reach home, but faced extreme lack of opportunities there too?

Clearly it was a tragedy beyond imagination and all that the country can now try now is that such a situation never arises again. But can we not make at least some amends by better attempts to identify all those who perished, or were disabled , and providing for their families and dependents? This would be  much better than merely expressing regret.

In addition there is the other issue of why so many railway track deaths are reported in  normal years. These number around 12000 to 16000 in a typical year when passenger traffic is normal. Hence there is clear need for improving overall railway track safety as well.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Man Over Machine.


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