With coronavirus showing signs of lingering on, and the government running out of options, it is time to bring the migrants to their native places and with dignity.
By ensuring a lockdown in the nick of time, the government has won the first phase of the battle with the deadly infection. With 29,400 confirmed cases, 934 deaths, and 6,800 recoveries, India has done exceptionally well. Not just this, it has also <a href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/10/modis-india-isnt-prepared-for-the-coronavirus/"><strong>stared down in the face</strong> </a>of experts and many others who had predicted a tsunami of deaths for the country.
Comparatively, the global corona cases have crossed 30 lakh with over two lakh deaths. Most of these in the developed world—the US, US, Italy, Spain, and France, not to mention China from where it all started.
However, India’s performance has come with a price tag: the last four weeks of lockdown have seen another formidable foe raise its head—poverty and hunger.
Now is the time for the government to show its mite and plan how to deliver migrants to their families. The migrants have already shown their desperation to return home twice—once after the lockdown was announced, and then at the Mumbai railway station. Unfortunately, they violated the very sanctity of the lockdown but gave an important signal to the government.
We do not want to see it happen the third time. If it happens, it would show the failure of governance. It would prove that the government can't plan properly, and doesn't think about its poor.
This would also be a pointer that the government has failed in upholding the fundamental reason for its existence—to protect its citizens and promote general welfare.
The last four weeks we have been witness to, almost daily, the painful and herculean effort migrants, laborers, workers and people in the unorganized sector have put in for the desire to go back to their native places. To be home with people they love. To be home with people who love them.
Every day there is news of migrants trudging, walking or cycling back home, covering hundreds of miles over a span of a few days. With this determination and grit, it can be assumed that the migrants know where their sustainable future lies—in their villages.
A 75-year-old man <strong><a href="https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/man-75-cycles-320-km-to-reach-home-seeks-quarantine-after-villagers-object/story-NxWuYVhuhPcewXpIA8VKeJ.html">cycled 320 km</a> </strong>from Supaul in Bihar to reach home in Mothabari, Bengal.
Elsewhere, four migrant workers began a 1,600 km journey on bicycles from Vijayawada to Agra.
However, not everyone is successful. Many die on their journeys.
Bala Subramani Logesh was one who never made it. He walked 500 km with friends from Wardha, Maharashtra, towards Tamil Nadu but <a href="https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/student-dies-of-cardiac-arrest-in-ghmc-shelter-home/article31241303.ece"><strong>died on the way</strong></a> in Telangana.
Migrant workers want to go back home. So, why are they doing it the hard way?
They know once they reach home they will neither die of hunger, and importantly, nor will they beg for food from strangers, NGOs or governments. It is an affront to human dignity that they can avoid.
Just five days to the end of phase-II of the lockdown, no one, absolutely no one, knows how much economic activity will revive, how many jobs will be on offer, what will be the wages. The uncertainty is too much to swallow along with that free meal that is being doled out.
The International Labor Organization has already said that the economic effects of Covid-19 are proving to be far worse than the 2008 financial crisis, with <a href="https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_740893/lang–en/index.htm"><strong>impact on nearly 200 million</strong></a> full-time workers expected in the next three months alone.
With uncertainty looming large, there is no point in idling workers in cities. There is also no point in keeping them in quarantine shelters in the middle of nowhere.
Bringing the migrants, workers and laborers home to their villages, and with dignity, is the government's job. This is a very basic right that the government can deliver. Governance is for people. When the people need it, the government should be there to help, and not to show them the rules.
We won the battle against Covid-19. Let us not lose the one against poverty and hunger..