With modes of public transport shut for 21 days and economic activities at a standstill, migrant daily wage workers have been one of the worst-hit as India began a total lockdown to counter coronavirus.
From Wednesday onward, a mass exodus of migrant workers began as many took to walking the long roads home. On March 25, hundreds of migrant workers from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, were seen walking back to their homes in Gujarat as jobs, even as jobs ran dry in cities.
What started as a trickle became a torrent. Tribal migrant workers from south Rajasthan started walking back to their home from Ahmedabad at the onset of lockdown. Kids on shoulder, toddlers by their side, they intend to make a journey not less than 180 km on foot 1/2 pic.twitter.com/v0ikE9SusD — DP (@dpbhattaET) March 24, 2020
Another journalist, Anumeha, shared a video of migrant workers from Surat, some of whom were planning to walk for 500 kms to Una.
“Groups of Adivasi workers walking back from Surat in #Gujarat to their homes hundreds of kilometres away” — video by Prayas, NGO working with construction workers. A few of the workers here say they are trying to reach Una, over 500 km away pic.twitter.com/Adv9lVBfnx — Anumeha (@anumayhem) March 25, 2020
Journalist Alok Pandey shared a video of a young migrant worker from Unnao in Uttar Prades, walking over 80 km to his village in Barabunki.
The tragedy of #Lockdown21 - this 20 yr old labourer is walking from his factory in unnao to his village in barabanki , 80 kms ! He cannot stay put at his place of work , as @narendramodi has appealed , because his factory owners won't permit him and others to stay on ! Pls hear. pic.twitter.com/ewkGPg1uwi — Alok Pandey (@alok_pandey) March 25, 2020
Long distances are not the only impediment faced by workers, many of whom are also tormented by police officers for being in violation of lockdown. A video from UP went viral after Badaun Police beat up migrants walking home from Gwalior.
THIS-Heartbreaking! Video from Badaun, UP Poor boys who’re on foot from Gwalior, WERE MADE TO CRAWL by UP Police Cops been asked to help distressed migrants, not ill treat them like this. Many cops doing good work but this is unacceptable! @pranshumisraa #CoronavirusLockdown pic.twitter.com/YPllyphTO7 — Zeba Warsi (@Zebaism) March 26, 2020
Similar scenes were sene in Delhi, home to thousands of migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. NDTV reported on workers starting two-day journeys on foot to cover the nearly 200 km distance to their homes along with their families including toddlers.
बंटी जैसे हजारो मजदूर दिल्ली से अपने घरों की ओर पैदल ही चल पड़े हैं। बंटी कहते हैं दिल्ली में कंकड़ पत्थर खा लें क्या? इससे अच्छा है गांव में नमक रोटी पर गुजारा कर लेंगे। दुधमुंहे बच्चों समेत ये परिवार दो दिन में अलीगढ़ अपने गांव पहुंचेगा। pic.twitter.com/xNrETsRrNl — Ravish Ranjan Shukla (@ravishranjanshu) March 25, 2020
Journalist Somesh Jha pointed out that nearly 81 percent of India's workforce was in the unorganised sector and that these people remained largely uncovered by social security schemes or relief packages.
With all businesses & transportation grinding to a halt during the lockdown, millions of migrant workers hardly have any choice on how to isolate themselves from the deadly coronavirus. I met Shiv who was walking on foot from New Delhi railway station to Anand Vihar (11 km). pic.twitter.com/a8dKQvPyIi — Somesh Jha (@someshjha7) March 26, 2020
Journalist Barkha Dutt also tweeted images of migrant workers with their families walking back to Morena, as did journalist Anindyo Chattopadhyay who captured long queues of migrant labourers walking to their homes in various UP villages.
The lockdown needs to factor in the plight of the poor, the homeless, the Labourers who can't stay here and can't get to their villages. This family holding their belongings and wondering how to reach Morena. Just walking. #Corona pic.twitter.com/Bq2hxYUrm7 — barkha dutt (@BDUTT) March 24, 2020
No interstate buses,no trains.Migrant labourers asked to leave for home and they march on for Amroha, Aligarh,Badayun,Buland Shahar and many places from Delhi N.C.R pic.twitter.com/5ZajIjwbq5 — Anindya Chattopadhya (@ANINDYAtimes) March 24, 2020
Migrant and daily wage workers have been some of the worst-hit as the coronavirus pandemic sent incomes for a toss with even welfare schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme affected by the lockdown, Bloomberg Quint reported.
In wake of rising panic, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a Rs 1.7 trillion relief package to help the migrant workers left in a lurch as the country shut down for 21 days. The Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan scheme is set to be rolled out in two parts - cash transfers Direct Benefit Transfer scheme and boosting food security.
Nevertheless, a majority of India's migrant workers may have a tough future ahead, even as India recorded 649 positive cases on Thursday.