A recent interview of P. Sainath, recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award and founder of People's Archive of Rural India (PARI), has gone viral. In the interview with Firstpost, he talked about the plight and miseries of the migrant laborers in the country. Urban India, especially the middle class and the rich, do not seem to care, he said.
Let me start with a disclaimer. At any cost, we should not have let our migrant laborers and daily wage earners suffer. Visuals of lakhs of them walking back with their children and little belongings to their native villages have scarred the country and it will take long to heal. But I also beg to differ with Sainath.
“How many English publications even bothered to give names of the workers crushed under the train? They just had to go faceless, and nameless. That is our attitude towards the poor. If it had been a plane crash, you would have helplines giving information. Even if there had been 300 killed in the crash, their names would appear in the newspapers,” he said.
Does he mean to say that the middle class or the rich in India are not bothered about the plight of the migrant laborers? When he said that their names have not been given in the English newspapers, does he mean that the English media has not reflected on the issue?
These are incorrect observations.
Maybe the names of the 16 migrant laborers, who were unfortunately killed when a train ran over them, did not appear, but at the same time names of many have appeared and are continue to appear. Not just their names, but their stories with visuals of their journey are pouring in. One of them appeared on this website (<a href="https://indianarrative.com/life/corona-triggers-quit-delhi-movement-365.html">https://indianarrative.com/life/corona-triggers-quit-delhi-movement-365.html</a>)
For Sainath to say that those sitting in the comfort of their houses were not affected is nothing but a conjecture. Thousands of people in their individual capacities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), volunteers of residents’ welfare associations (RWA) have sprung into action.
Citizens have come out despite lockdown orders to feed and provide water to the walkers.
NGOs including Give India, Democratic Outreach for Social Transformation (Dost), Goonj, just to name a few have done remarkable work in helping the laborers.
According to Sainath agriculture, which generates millions of livelihoods, collapsed. “Every other livelihood in the countryside has been savaged as well. Handlooms and handicrafts together are the biggest employers in the country after agriculture. Boatmen, fishermen, toddy tappers, toy makers, weavers, dyers; one after the other, they are going under like ninepins,” he said.
This may hold partly true. A few industries have been struggling but let us not forget that agriculture is dependent on monsoons and a bad year can create havoc. Besides, aspirations have increased and many farmers do not want their children to take up farming or any allied activities.
Their dreams are not limited. They want to come to cities, earn money, and live a better life than what their parents and grandparents lived.
Yes, the migrant laborers and workers have suffered. But to say that urban India has turned a blind eye to the plight of the migrant workers is to ignore the good work so many people from all walks of life have done to ameliorate their conditions..