Coronavirus: how the confinement in India by the covid-19 became a humanitarian tragedy

When I spoke to him on the phone, he had just returned to his village in Rayastán state from neighboring Gujarat in northern India, where he works as a bricklayer.

Hundreds of thousands of workers in India are leaving big cities and returning to their places of origin due to the lack of jobs, food and housing. Across India, millions of migrant workers are fleeing their blocked cities to return to their village homes. These informal workers are the backbone of the economy of big cities: they are the ones who build houses, produce food, serve in restaurants, deliver food, cut hair in salons, manufacture cars, unclog toilets and deliver newspapers, among many other stuffs.
Millions of people in India defy the country's complete closure amid the coronavirus pandemic and seek to return to their village homes, away from large cities.
In the midst of intense heat, Goutam Lal Meena had walked on hot asphalt in his sandals. He said he had survived only on water and cookies.
In Gujarat, Meena earned up to Rs 400 (US $ 5.34) a day and sent most of his income to his family in his hometown.
Work, and consequently wages have ended or after India declared a closure for 21 days from midnight on March 24 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
India reported more than 1,200 cases of covid-19 and 32 deaths as of Monday, March 30, according to a count by John Hopkins University in the United States.

Without work or food, millions of workers leave big cities to return to their native villages in India.

The shutdown of all types of transportation means that Meena was forced to return on foot.
I walked during the day and night. What choice did I have? I have little money and almost no food," he said, his voice hoarse and tense.
A long walk
Meena is not alone. Across India, millions of migrant workers are fleeing their blocked cities to return to their village homes.
These informal workers are the backbone of the economy of big cities: they are the ones who build houses, produce food, serve in restaurants, deliver food, cut hair in salons, manufacture cars, unclog toilets and deliver newspapers, among many other stuffs.

Escaping poverty in their villages, most of these workers which are nearly 100 million, reside in squalid housing, in congested urban ghettos.
Informal workers are the ones driving the economy of big cities in India.
The closure of the country turned these workers into refugees overnight. Their workplaces closed, and most of the paying employees and contractors disappeared.
Together, men, women and children began their return trips at all hours of the day last week.
They carry their few belongings - usually food, water and clothing - in cheap cloth bags and worn rucksacks.

"India is walking home"

When children are too tired to walk, their parents carry them on their shoulders.
They walk in the sun and under the stars. Many - the vast majority - say they ran out of money and feared they would starve.
"India is walking home," read the headline of the Indian Express newspaper.
The surprising exodus recalls the flight of refugees during the bloody partition of India in 1947.
Millions traveled to the east and west of Pakistan, in a migration that displaced 15 million people.

Indian migrant workers feel they have more social security in their villages.

This time, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are desperately trying to return to their homes in their own country.
Fighting hunger and fatigue are bound by a collective will to somehow return to where they belong.
The home in the village ensures the food and well-being of the family, they say.
Humanitarian crisis
Clearly, a total blockade of the country to prevent the pandemic from spreading further is turning into a humanitarian crisis.

For many, the home in the village ensures the food and well-being of the family.
Among the numerous refugees from this confinement, there is a 90-year-old woman whose family used to sell cheap toys at traffic lights in a suburb on the outskirts of New Delhi.
Kajodi walks with his family towards Rayastán, his hometown, about 100 km away.
They eat cookies and smoke bidis, traditional Indian handmade cigarettes, to kill hunger.
With a stick to help, Kajodi had been walking for three hours when journalist Salik Ahmed met him.
The humiliating departure from the city had not robbed him of his pride.
"He said he would have bought a ticket to go home if transportation was available," said Ahmed.
This long journey also includes a 5-year-old boy who is on a 700-kilometer walking journey with his father, a construction worker, from New Delhi to his home in central India's Madhya Pradesh state.
"When the sun goes down, we will stop and sleep," the father tells journalist Barkha Dutt.
Another woman walks with her husband and 2½-year-old daughter, her bag full of food, clothes and water.

Death risk
It does not exaggerate. Last week, a 39-year-old man on a 300-kilometer trek from New Delhi to Madhya Pradesh complained of chest pain and exhaustion and later died.
Many migrants must return to their home villages on foot as transport is disrupted.
Many migrants must return to their home villages on foot as transport is disrupted.
Another case is that of Rajneesh, a 26-year-old auto industry worker who walks 250 kilometers to his village near Uttar Pradesh.
It will take him about four days, he calculates. "We will die walking before the coronavirus hits us," the man tells Dutt.
It does not exaggerate. Last week, a 39-year-old man on a 300-kilometer trek from New Delhi to Madhya Pradesh complained of chest pain and exhaustion and later died.
And a 62-year-old man, walking back from a hospital in Gujarat, collapsed in front of his house and died.
Four other migrants on their way to Rayastán from Gujarat were hit by a truck on a dark highway.
As the crisis worsens, state governments rush to organize transportation, shelter, and food.
But trying to transport them to their villages quickly turned into another nightmare.  Hundreds of thousands of workers pushed each other at a major bus terminal in New Delhi when buses arrived to pick them up.
Kajodi Devi, 90, walks from New Delhi to her hometown.
Kajodi Devi, 90, walks from New Delhi to her hometown.
But trying to transport them to their villages quickly turned into another nightmare.
Hundreds of thousands of workers pushed each other at a major bus terminal in New Delhi when buses arrived to pick them up.
New Delhi's head of government, Arvind Kejriwal, asked the workers not to leave the capital. He asked that He stood away wherever they were "because large crowds are also at risk of becoming infected with coronavirus" .
He also said that his government would pay the rent and announced the opening of 568 food distribution centers in the capital.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologized for the blockade "that has caused difficulties in lives, especially for the poor," adding that "tough measures are needed to win this battle."
Mass exodus
Whatever the reason, Modi and state governments seem to have been wrong in not anticipating this internal exodus.
Modi also dealt with the plight of stranded Indian migrant workers abroad: hundreds of them were repatriated on special flights.

But the difficult scenario of workers within the country gave a discordant note.

There are several antecedents of exodus in crisis in the history of India.

"Wanting to go home in a crisis is natural. If Indian students, tourists, and stranded pilgrims abroad want to return, so do workers in big cities. They want to return to their villages. We cannot send planes to take home one group, but leave another to walk home, "journalist Shekhar Gupta tweeted.
Writer Chinmay Tumbe, author of India Moving: A History of Migration, says that cities offer economic security to poor migrants. But their social security resides in their villages, where they have food and accommodation.
"By stopping work and dismissing workers, they now seek social security and try to return to their homes," Tumbe said.
Furthermore, there are many precedents for the flight of migrant workers during a crisis: the 2005 floods in Bombay saw many workers fleeing the city.
Half of the city's population, mostly migrants, had also fled the city, following the 1918 flu pandemic.
When the plague broke out in western India in 1994, there was an "almost biblical exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from the industrial city of Surat," relates historian Frank Snowden in his book Epidemics and Society.

Coronavirus spread

The massive exodus of migrants within India can spread the disease across the country.
It is now feared that the hundreds of thousands of migrants may help spread the covid-19 disease.
According to a government report, about 56 districts in nine Indian states account for half of the interstate migration of male workers.
These could become potential hotspots as migrants return home.
Partha Mukhopadhyay, a member of the New Delhi Policy Research Center, suggests that 35,000 village councils in these 56 potentially sensitive districts should assess the possible impact of the virus on returning workers and isolate infected people at local facilities.
The next few days will determine whether states can transport workers to their homes or keep them in cities and provide them with food and money.
"People are forgetting what is at stake amid the drama of the consequences of the blockade: the risk of millions of people dying," says Nitin Pai of the Takshashila Institution, a leading group of experts from India.
"There also the most affected will be the poor."


Share:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

ad

Popular News

Recent Posts