Since the lockdown began, stories of migrant workers have haunted the nation. These stories of suffering and hardship have become the face of your coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in India’s megacities. There is an eerie similarity to most of them, highlighting an unequal society which includes caused a humanitarian crisis to erupt during an unprecedented health crisis.
Earlier from the lockdown, certainly one of us noticed two children who lived about the construction site next door. There was hunger and curiosity in their eyes, although they said nothing and asked for nothing. These were your kids of Ranju, a migrant worker from Bihar, who worked at the construction site. The pandemic had brought work to a standstill for her and 15 other Bihari workers – no wages, little food, and no cooking gas. An economic package has since been organized. Yet, labour distress continues.
Why did the migrant workers create the punishing journey from big cities back to the nondescript towns and villages of largely Bihar, and also in Uttar Pradesh (UP)? The subsequent narratives from Poorvanchal (eastern UP and Bihar) prove the demand for a nuanced idea of the precarity and anxieties of your migrant workforce and the demand for State policies that take this into consideration. The two states account for 37% of your country’s inter-state migrants whose lives and livelihoods are actually uncertain, at least to the forseeable future. We spoke to many workers and community leaders to know their anxieties and experiencespolicymakers and experiences to comprehend their responses.
Migrant workers across the country had similar worries. The lack of basic amenities, the lack of ability to feed their children without ration cards of the particular geography they were locked down in, and lacking a security net to protect themselves from Covid-19 made them desperate. Worse still, the persistent the fear of eviction played on the minds through the day, while mosquitoes bit them through the night. There is no spare money to purchase soaps, sanitisers, or even the most essential product of the times – masks. Their economic insecurities persist despite government action in recent weeks.
Try taking a little examples from Madhubani and Sitamarhi, Bihar. Rajesh worked in a construction site; Rajkishore Ram, Fenkan Raut, Manoj Manjhi, and Roshan Ram were labourers within a shoe factory, and Subhash Sah was actually a fabricator in another factory. Not one of them received their wages. The situation was worse for seasonal migrants who oscillated between their home as well as the destination states. Amar Singh, an agricultural worker in Gorakhpur, who doubles as a painter in Delhi, travelled 900 kilometres on a motorcycle, only for his village to chase him away. Those arriving through the city were reported towards the police and the pradhan, the village chief.
InBihar and Riwilganj, the quarantine centre from the Simariya School provided respite to people who had returned. Food was provided thrice a day. A mosquito net, a towel, and bathing items were also given. Nevertheless it was life past the quarantine that worried them – for no person knew where they could find work.
Their fears are for the immediate and long-term. Estimates of unemployment in the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy exhibit a dire situation. Bihar has already established one of the highest rates of unemployment in March and April. Even though the average unemployment rate for the country was 23.5% in April, Bihar’s unemployment figure was as much as 46.6%. Uttar Pradesh is fairly better, with 21.5% unemployment rate in April.
A number of these workers escaped the serfdom in villages and flocked to cities only to have to restart work in villages, in farms and brick kilns, seeing that the pandemic rages on. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has become the bulwark for rural employment. In April, nearly 856,773 households demanded employment in Bihar. Of the, only 73% of households could possibly get work. Of the 1,113,644 households in UP that demanded get through MGNREGS in April, only 67% were given work. With tens of thousands probably going to be included in the workforce in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the interest in MGNREGS is expected to see a sharp rise. Generating work and ensuring regular payments will be a challenge. Bihar carries a built in disadvantage as a result of extensive landlessness – 80% of rural migrants can be landless or have below one acre of land.
Yet, despite precarious operate in cities, no secure wages, and little social support, India’s poorest workers have acted with restraint, still following, within their constraints, norms of social distancing.
Pandemics could have historically offered opportunities for labour to bargain for higher wages and better conditions. In India, the pressures from maliks (bosses), the pervasive informalism newest economy jobs which lead to no recognition for labour, as well as the urban middle-class’s assertions for exclusion from the urban poor are part of a more substantial problem. Opportunities are difficult in conditions of inequalities and assertions of power. India need to do better, beginning from inclusive urbanism and policy reforms premised on an ethic of labour care.