Plight of Migrant Work-Force Making No News This Time

People queue up at Anand Vihar Railway Station to board trains to their respective native places for Chhath celebrations, in New Delhi on Nov 18, 2020. (Photo: IANS)

People are returning to their homes in jam-packed trains which are still running but the media has no time or space to pay attention to their problems

Soroor Ahmed | Clarion India

EXACTLY a year back Bihar was among the states which was occupying maximum space in the newspapers and television channels in the post-March 24 lockdown days. This time the media is hardly paying any attention towards it for obvious reasons.

Neither in 2020 nor in 2021 the state was as such in the news for the spread of corona virus, but for other reasons—of course, related to it. Bihar and a couple of other states hogged the limelight largely because of the migrant crisis caused by the sudden announcement of lockdown. Be in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore Chandigarh, Surat, Ahmedabad or any other place, journalists had been filing stories about the return of work-force and students to their native states—the favoured destinations were of course Bihar as well as eastern Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

According to an estimate at least three million––the figure may be even much higher—returned to Bihar in the first two months after the lockdown.

As road and rail traffic were suddenly stopped, they opted their own ways to reach their homes. They walked down hundreds of kilometres, many pedalled all the way, many others travelled on auto-rickshaws etc. to reach their native places.

Many perished as they met with accidents, died of hunger or other diseases. Those caught while on the bordering districts while entering Bihar were forcibly quarantined in the most unhygienic conditions in government schools, panchayat bhawans, or any other public places. Seven to eight labours were stuffed in one dinghy room and forced to sleep on the mat or chadar for a fortnight before being allowed to go to their homes.

Ironically, very few of these labours were tested positive or died of corona. Many more of them lost their lives due to other reasons. A couple of cases of deaths were caused due to snake-bites. The food and drinking arrangements were simply horrible. Their protests were silenced by the brutal lathis of the police.

While the state chief minister Nitish Kumar, according to reports, did not leave his residence for about 100 days, everything was left in the hands of bureaucrats and the police. Jokes started doing the rounds that the then director general of police, Gupteshwar Pandey, is the de facto chief minister of the state. Later during the Sushant Singh Rajput death case he, for a brief period, emerged as a darling of a section of TV channels. He became so ambitious that by the last week of September he resigned from his post and joined the Janata Dal-United to contest the Assembly poll. But his ambition was stonewalled by the alliance partner BJP, which insisted on fielding its own candidate from the Buxar seat, from where he wanted to fight.

A year down the memory lane the scenario is somewhat different. People are returning to their homes in jam-packed trains which are still running but the media has no time or space to pay attention to their problems. Unlike last year when tens of thousands of these labours, mostly from eastern India, were fed by various NGOs, Good Samaritans and other religious organisations in Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Chandigarh etc. this time, hardly any one is looking towards their plight.

True, the problem may not be of the same magnitude as trains and vehicular traffic are allowed to run. The number of labours retuning to their homes may be less as many have chosen to stay back at their native places and many white-collared employees got the opportunity to work from home.

But that is not the only reason towards the sheer apathy towards this lot this time. Unlike the last year, in 2021 COVID-19 is really wreaking havoc in at least a dozen states of India. The health-crisis is so severe and death toll in Delhi, Mumbai, and other places in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, etc. are so high that the migrants have been left to fend for themselves. Though the Arvind Kejriwal government initially announced some measures for them, yet the seriousness of oxygen crisis and huge surge in the cases of corona related death perhaps compelled his government to look elsewhere.

Besides, most of those dying of pandemic or suffering from COVID-19 come from a slightly better class than the migrant workers—a majority of them die several deaths before the actual one.

If the ruling BJP was till March 23 last year, that is a day before the announcement of lockdown, busy in overthrowing the Congress government of Kamal Nath and installing Shivraj Singh Chauhan as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh this time the same party was till April 22 over-busy in the Assembly election in West Bengal.

Like last year, in 2021 too Bihar remains among the less affected states of the country. For example, on April 23, 2021, the state officially reported 12,672 cases and only 54 deaths and a day later 12,359 cases and 77 deaths. In 2020 the figures were much lesser on these particular dates. Or may be no one had the time to look into the number of cases as the state was overwhelmed by the return of millions of migrants.

Surprisingly, the first oxygen-related death in Bihar was caused on April 24 by a dispute between two wholesale medicine traders in Patna leading to the shooting down of one by the other just in the vicinity of the Patna Medical College and Hospital, the premier health hub of the state.


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