Although the lockdown has entered its fourth phase, the exodus of migrant labourers from different states is continuing as indefinitely as the spread of virus. Although over 3,000 new Covid cases per day were reported last week, the spread of the disease of a dangerous scale is limited to a few states, with the condition in other states matters remaining relatively safe. But this march of 'refugees' that started on day one of the lockdown does not seem to have any let up. Not only that, the adventurous flow to home villages situated hundreds of kilometers away – and mostly on foot - have led to big tragedies in several cases.
However, this issue which is as critical as the virus spread, unfortunately fails to get the serious attention of authorities. Not only was their situation not duly considered in the Rs 20 Lakh Crore Covid-resuce package, the approach of the government to those who raised this issue was one of derision. The act of Rahul Gandhi, of meeting the migrant labourers waiting to return from Delhi to their villages, was ridiculed by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman as 'theatrics' and exaggeration – an example of extension of the sangh parivar government's inhumane approach.
The pitiable spectacle of the stream of refugees started on the very next day after the lockdown declaration on 24 March. The picture of mass exodus of labourers who had come to Delhi for jobs together with their familities was not limited to the capital; rather it was a country-wide phenomenon as worrying as the Covid virus itself. Such crowds were reminiscent of the milllions of seekers of refugee status moving from the conflict zones of North Africa and West Asia and waiting for entry into Europe via Macedonia and other points. The only difference is that while in those cases, many succumbed to death in the Mediterranean Sea during their hazardous voyage in quest of a new life in Europe, here many who made the long and arduous trek lost their lives on the road, wayside or on rail tracks.
It is not an isolated instance in the saga of such mass exodus that 16 such migrant labourers were run over by a goods train and died on 7 May , when they were sleeping in the rail track en route from Aurangabad in Maharashtra to their native villages in Madhya Pradesh. Other accidents have made news both before and after this. According to various reports, the number of deaths due to causes other than Covid during the last fifty days, is 590 - which forms about 18 per cent of the total Covid deaths. And ofthose non-Covid-related deaths, the ones during the migration would number over 100. This is a result of declaring the lockdown all of a sudden with no advance notice worth the name for the people to prepare themselves. The disaster could have been avoided if corrective action had been taken at least after the deaths in the first few days of migration. But unfortunately, the government was seen virtually throwing that crowd to the jaws of death. Thus this domestic refugee flow, the biggest witnessed by independent India, becomes a slice of the picture of governmental callousness and wilful negligence.
In a way, all these incidents put together also characterise the kind of 'humanity' followed by the current government which is totally controlled by the sangh parivar. This period of lockdown is being used by them as a golden opportunity to advance their agenda. The regime has by now proved that it does not have anything either in ideas or governmental action to save the country from the abyss of economic crisis and unemployment. Any number of examples, ranging from note-ban upto the Covid mega package, are in before the people's eyes. What ultimately stands out in any of their schemes or action plan, falls under two categories: either unmixed servility to the corporates or spread of Hindutva. It is the same mind-set that gets reflected in statements from leaders including Nirmala Sitharaman. The ideology of this school runs even counter to the worldview that considers migrants as human. What a noted RSS spokesman of Kerala commented about this collective walk is that it was not because they ran short of buses, but because it was part of a culture; and Gandhi chose to walk to Dandi not because of lack of vehicles. And if ever any one decides to help these hapless labourers, they have no qualms about halting that at any cost. When the Congress party offered thousand buses ready to ferry the migrant labourers from the UP-Delhi border, the Yogi government in UP was trying to block approval for them. One can only feel ashamed thinking about a government that is capable of pushing such people living in the margins of the society to a whirlpool of death.