Migrants, like railways, are lifeline of any metro city; they contribute to logistics by providing human resource to maintain supply chains of goods & services
The day the Prime Minister addressed the nation extending the lockdown for another period of around three weeks was also the day when swarms of migrants took to the streets, inter-state bus stands and railway platforms in major metros of the country imploring for a passage to their native locations. This was taken most unkindly by most of us spraying either the anti-migrant sentiment or attacking politicians for playing dirty tricks. Such acts of the hungry and penniless people are not protests of solidarity but they are steps of frustration, powerlessness and hopelessness. These scenes were witnessed mostly in cities and more particularly in Surat, Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. It is a different story as to why only Mumbai was the centre for crossfire in social and electronic media.
A FB friend demanded summoning of military and shooting down such people whom he underlined as anti-nationals. Another one hinted that such group behavior in gross violation of lockdown rules is nothing short of sabotage. The likes of Arnab Goswami earned their TV shows by proving the political opposition as opportunists and migrants as anti-social.
Those of us on Paytm, Goggle wallet and internet banking will not possibly understand the pitch darkness of bare subsistence faced by daily wage workers, slum dwellers, homeless, seasonally unemployed and migrants. We have Zomato and Swiggy giving us access beyond our overstocked kitchens. They have empty vessels and aluminum jars to play. We have well polished nails to press the buttons of on-line and off-line home deliveries of any item under the globe. They hide their hands in empty pockets and drained purses. Though physically isolated, we can stay connected through Facebook, Tweeter, Instagram and WhatsApp throwing the ‘saree’ challenge, music relay race, recipe challenge, ‘mehendi’ trail and what not. Males who traditionally and with a sense of pride keep away from domestic chores are today pompously displaying their hands making cooking a family fun time. For the migrants and marginalized, the environment is of silence as they cannot maintain their subsistence needs and send remittance to the native place.
Our jobs are safe and secure. Migrants have lost their jobs and livelihood. With drained pockets and hunger, they have to also carry the burden of anger and hate for putting the community to risk of COVID-19. Their desperation to move to their native place is this mix of hunger and fear. We have a voice and the media is our public address vehicle. We have access to people in power---- from bureaucrats to politicians from municipal to state level. Migrants and marginalized are hunted as vote banks. They may have votes but no voice. We are roaring voice banks and we are no less vote banks with potential to send tremors in corridors of power.
Migrants like the railways are the lifeline of any metro city. They contribute to the logistics by providing the human resource to maintain the supply chains of goods and services. Economic activities such as mining, fisheries, infrastructure, hotels and real estate would collapse in the absence of migrant population. It seems 42% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums and shanties of 15 x 15 foot. Known as the city of dreams (Mayanagari), Mumbai holds the record of housing the third largest slum of the world. It is an established observation that the size of slum colony is directly proportional to the size of sky rise and skyscraper colony as both sustain each other. Mumbai has significant chunk of migrants from around nine states of India namely Tamil Nadu Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Punjab.
The delinquent migrants are no different from us in flesh, blood, aspiration, frailty and sentiment. If they had stable earnings, dwelling and social security like us their behavior under COVID lockdown would be a carbon copy of our behavior. They would have also rejoiced in the melody of “utensils and spoons” and joined in the festival of lights responding to the earlier calls of our Prime Minister. If we were in the environment in which they are at present, we would have reacted the same way as what happened at Bandra or Surat or Hyderabad. We have the luxury of searching for alternatives to fight boredom and isolation. They have to fight hunger of their women and children and provide for basic medical care. Boredom is conspicuously absent in their life.
In the current disaster management exercise, solution can come only by treating it as an issue of hunger and destitution. The first is to keep the flow of at least 50% of their earnings. There are reports that contract workers have not been paid even the wages of the period prior to the lockdown. More accessible community kitchens are required to maintain the provision of minimum essentials. All religious places, not a few on finger-tips, flushed with funds should have actually come forward to serve prepared meals without discrimination. It is a gigantic task and the efforts of the government would definitely be inadequate. The principal employers and the contract employers of migrant labor should have worked out the formula to pump earnings in times of such disaster.
Despite full national lockdown, there is no respite in the regressive, revengeful and anti-liberalist agenda of the BJP and their outfits. The political and administrative machinery ensures that it goes as scheduled. The arrest of social activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde stands as priority even during pandemic times. For the UP government of Yogi Adityanath, acting on flimsy FIRs filed against the editor of ‘The Wire’ Siddharth Varadarajan becomes prime task. Public authorities with such mind-sets prefer to choose lathis over livelihood to answer the migrants and marginalized.