The BS Yediyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka has been facing flak from migrants, opposition leaders as well as ordinary citizens on social media after its decision to cancel special trains for migrant workers.
This week saw ten special trains run from Bengaluru to a number of states in North India. The state government, however, asked the Railways to cancel the trains on Tuesday. With industrial and construction work slowly resuming in Karnataka, the government decided to hold over a lakh workers back in Karnataka against their will as it needed migrant labour to help revive its economy.
Stranded workers from across states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand have been agitating since Tuesday. The opposition slammed the government for treating migrant workers as "bonded labour" and holding them against their will. The government added that those who could arrange for their own vehicle were free to leave. These are the same workers who had earlier been left jobless and incomeless due to the lockdown, leading mass exodus on foot as workers left for their home states.
Can't let the migrant workers go home because - "economy".Can't open the granaries to feed the hungry because - "economy"."Economy" must be defined by people not profits! @CMofKarnataka @BSYBJP @NitishKumar #TrainsForMigrantsNow— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) May 7, 2020
On Thursday, social media also joined the chorus of outrage against the government with the hashtag #TrainsForMigrants trending across the country. Residents of Bengaluru and other parts of Karnataka even carried out poster campaigns to protest the move to hold back workers against their will. Many saw the move to cancel trains in order to incarcerate them in the city as a human rights violation, especially amid a global pandemic that has killed hundreds in India already and affected thousands.
Cancelling trains and not allowing migrant workers to return home is a violation of human rights. The state must provide free and safe travel for all workers. #TrainsForMigrantsNow pic.twitter.com/jCLtAEjlEi— chic kebab (@MangaInji) May 7, 2020
we are all sitting in cities built by migrant labour & here those who built them are being revoked of all dignity, being forced to work on construction projects, having no access to return home. There need to be free #TrainsForMigrantsNow!— Saumya Dadoo (@saumyadadoo) May 7, 2020
Dear @BSPBJP and @nimmasuresh, it won't hurt to listen to what the people have to say for once, it is how democracies are built. Residents from Cooke Town are demanding #TrainsForMigrantsNow @peopleofindiaka @vinaysreeni @avani_chokshi @clifroz @lekhaadavi @_riqsha pic.twitter.com/QDBTV5aQu0— Raleuse_Professionnelle (@prism_colours) May 7, 2020
#TrainsForMigrantsThe Karnataka Govt’s decision is a blatant violation of fundamental rights guaranteed u/ Articles 23 (prohibit of forced labour) and 19(1)(d) (right to move freely within the territory of India). An utter disregard for the life & dignity of migrant labourers. pic.twitter.com/wVbf0ve4Sh— Barathi (@grimalkintweets) May 7, 2020
Everyone deserves to get back home with family. Trains for migrants now! #TrainsForMigrantsNow #TrainsForMigrants #MigrantLivesMatter #MigrantWorkers #MigrantWorkersTrainFare #migrants pic.twitter.com/rTc91VsW8l— Stereotypical villi (@thankyou4joking) May 7, 2020
Migrant workers also demonstrated across the state.
Our level of #HumanRights .. Keep poor uneducated workers guessing and clueless while we twiddle thumbs, clang plates, light candles and spend money showering flowers on hospitals. #IncredibleIndia #TrainsForMigrantsNow pic.twitter.com/nbrYw79ZyW— Neerei (@soyierene) May 7, 2020
BS Yeddyurappa on Wednesday said that over a lakh workers were sent back to their home states. But with industrial work picking up, the chief minister said the state needed the remaining workers to stay. He also announced a Rs 16,000 crore relief package for those affected by the coronavirus lockdown including migrant labourers and construction workers.
The workers who took the trains back home, however, were made to shell out Rs 800 to 1,200 per ticket depending on the destination, and also the fare for the state-run BMTC buses which ferried them to the railway station.
The state has more than two lakh migrant labourers from different parts of the country and from Bangladesh and Nepal. More than 80,000 of them are from Orissa and about 70,000 are from Bihar, according to labour department's records taken during the pandemic.