From Demonetization to lockdown, the trend continues. The way the Dabangg government works is to make a dramatic announcement. Remember the demonetization on the pretext of fighting corruption and black money (and all to vain). This theatrical sort of announcement overwhelms the people of the country with fear. The sudden (psychological) shock emanating from such announcement has caused people’s deaths. If you recall the 2016 demonetization disaster, one would be forced to accept – yes, that this government is capable of gross, criminal mismanagement. At its root, perhaps, lies a contempt for the common marginalized Indians, expendable as always for larger ‘causes’, invariably defined by Modi under advice from his favorite whiz-kids. But that’s for later: Let us look at the tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes, right now.
The tragedy of homeless workers across the country is awful in a nationwide lockdown on a four-hour notice to prevent the transmission of Novel Coronavirus. There are at least millions of people on the streets, no roof over their heads, no work, no food, and no money to buy food. If they are left in the workplace, there are huge people in a room. Otherwise, millions of people are walking to their homes – some one hundred kilometers, some five hundred kilometers. Someone is alone, someone shoulders his young child. There is no food, no water in the streets. Whenever the freight car stops on the road, the triplets are removed and there are staggering helpless workers, like herdsmen.
Looking at the images and video of the workers and the migrant laborers which are going viral, it is clear that there is a clear line between the East and the South. People from Bihar, Odisha, Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh – go to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat for work. On the one hand, there are few populous states, where the average age of the population is low, due to various industry limitations. In other states, the prevalence of the industry is high, but the average age is high, resulting in the shortage of local workers. Therefore, these perceived laborers have created a rhythm – the number is 2-3 million. That rhythm is occasionally interrupted when the virus of provincialism is uprooted somewhere. In the time of demonetization, the affected people have been huge. But all these times people have got time to return home – there was no thunderstorm in four hours’ notice. So now the country is facing an unprecedented crisis.
Was the Modi government unaware of this reality, of the existence of these uprooted labourers? That’s impossible. Every Census in India devotes a series of data tables on migrants. The latest 2011 Census revealed that 13.9 crore Indians migrated between 2001 and 2011, 10% of whom did so for “employment”. That’s about 1.4 crore migrants in that decade alone. Now, the question is, does the government of the country have no responsibility to prevent these millions of people from disaster even in this most urgent lockdown? They are all unorganized, so it is difficult to reach financial help quickly. But is it impossible to provide relief camps or meals for three weeks? If giving them two days’ time, or returning them to their state on an emergency basis, would they be more likely to be infected than the way they are now or want to return home like a crowded gathering? Is it a lack of planning, or sensitivity?
The entire responsibility has come upon the state governments, without any financial help from the central government. Delhi Chief Minister has provided food for millions of people. Maharashtra Chief Minister has taken some steps. The Kerala initiative is underway. Besides, people are helping the people around them in their initiatives. Another aspect of tragedy is the millions of seniors who fell on rocky grounds for three hours’ notice – how would they spend twenty-one days without help?
What initiative did the central government take? Starting from Janata Curfew, the sudden announcement of the 21-day lockdown, without the assurance of any financial clues, resulted in panic and desperation for food throughout the country. Two days later, the finance minister announced the package. And in the midst of the news of these workers’ dismay, it was reported that the re-communication of Ramayana was being launched on television to ease the suffering of the countrymen.
The fear of the infection spreading from the upper classes has overwhelmed millions of marginalized people, but the trauma is profound. North India will face two crises due to corona. On the one hand industry, where the labor shortage can be acute, because of this panic, people may not want to leave the house and move to another place. The government ‘Skill India’ initiative can be a chore because people in the village will not want to go anywhere if they are trained. Another crisis may come from farming. Agriculture accounts for 18 percent of the country’s total financial wealth, but only 55 percent of people live. Therefore, in order to reduce the pressure on agriculture, it is very necessary for some people to move from agriculture to industry. But the way the country orphaned them in one night in this crisis, they might try this time to stay in the village and return to the agricultural fields. But even more sadly, the elite man, who is in the mood for a long holiday, can’t even think of the screaming of the millions of workers who have taken to the streets.
Now, the government should provide protection to the workers. Besides this, the transport system like special trains and buses should also be introduced. The government should ensure the provisioning of daily food to these workers and their families.