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The ‘India story’ has no legs to stand on

prasad1

Well-known member
Finally, we are seeing things as they actually are. The ‘India story’, whatever it may have stood for, has no legs left anymore. The legs are marching back home, across the length of India, and stopping might mean death. Literally.

Thousands of migrant workers are walking back to their villages and small towns through what is arguably the harshest lockdown in the world. No work, no wages and no means of transport to return home meant they had to fend for themselves, be atmanirbhar. And so, workers have been on the move for over a month-and-a-half with whatever little belongings they have, accompanied by family members, some of them small, tired children who have to carry on in the punishing heat as though it is the most natural thing to do. But it isn’t, and the pictures are unforgiving, unconscionable.

Any blinkers that may still be on about the leaps of ‘progress’ that India has made during the last three decades should have come off by now. We always knew how dire the condition of the working poor in our cities was, but to see it enacted in this manner has jolted us out of our collective reverie.

Other than those going back, there are at least eight crore migrants across the states, according to the central government’s own estimates, who are non-card holders and hence can’t access food grains from the state. The Centre has belatedly promised free grains to them for the next two months — 51 days into the lockdown — but this is unlikely to help much. According to a recent report by the Stranded Workers Action Network, a group of volunteers responding to distress calls from migrants across India, over 82% of the 12,248 workers who reached out to them did not receive rations from state governments and 64% of 9,981 people had less than Rs 100 left with them. If this is anything to go by, we will have to deal with far worse than what we have encountered until now.

The question before us is really this: What kind of a system allows the State to abnegate its responsibility towards a large section of its population, even if it is to save lives and make sure medical facilities are not overwhelmed? Although the world over countries are struggling, nothing matches the scale of the humanitarian disaster unfolding in India.

 

prasad1

Well-known member
Just take two examples out of the many that have been recorded. In Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district, 16 workers headed for Bhusawal from Jalna were crushed to death under a goods train. The workers were resting on the railway tracks after covering a part of their journey on foot to board the ‘Shramik Special’ train that would take them to Madhya Pradesh. A few days later, it was their bodies that left on the trains meant to take them back home.

The other disturbing story is not of death but birth, this time by the side of a road. Mann Kumari, heavily pregnant, left Ambala with a number of other workers for Madhya Pradesh, only to give birth on the road after walking 300 kilometres. The new-born and the mother waited but a few hours before resuming their unending march. They were provided transportation back to their homes after they had walked on for another 150 kms. And hers is not the only story like this.

These are grim times, and many are losing loved ones to the infection and jobs and incomes to changing times. But still, there is loss and then there is systemic callousness that inflicts unacceptable misery on the poor. The lockdown has shown us that the Indian State, and the political system that has shaped it, can’t be bothered about the most disadvantaged and disempowered among us. If this was not clear to us in the years and months leading up to the lockdown, then the current events should show us how far we have come since Independence.

Incidentally, that was when we had another great migration. What we are seeing now has surpassed even that painful event in some ways. We were supposed to do better all these years later. But we haven’t. In fact, we seemed to have regressed. It would be best to accept that we have spawned a perverse system. Being clear-eyed about ourselves might be the only thing that could help us emerge out of this self-inflicted tragedy.

 
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