India’s migrant workers head home amid lockdown fear

India’s migrant workers head home amid lockdown fear

Government mismanagement leads to another mass exodus of workers across the country

Bijay Kumar Minj Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi Published: January 11, 2022 09:52 AM GM
India's migrant workers head home amid lockdown fear
Migrant workers in Delhi head towards railway stations to return to their home villages during the annual Chhat Puja festival in November 2019. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News) 

Hundreds of migrant workers lined up in bus terminals and railways stations in cities across India to return to their home states fearing another nationwide lockdown as the Covid-19 surge continues.

“It is obvious that they don’t want to suffer the same fate like the last two years coping with hunger, disease and struggling to go back home,” Father Jaison Vadassery, secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops’ of India (CCBI) commission for migrants, told UCA News.

“The federal government launched the eSHRAM portal last year to make a national database of migrant workers, but it is still a work in progress. The government should be well prepared to tackle the situation by this time, but there has been a lack of cooperation between federal and state governments. They did not learn from past mistakes, resulting in workers returning to their villages.”

Luis Kujur, a Catholic bachelor who works in a factory in Noida in Uttar Pradesh, left for his village in Jharkhand state on Jan. 8.

“I don’t want to recall my last experience when many times I felt that I may not be able to even get a meal in a day, but luckily many of my friends helped me out,” he told UCA News.

“Not all are lucky like as me as I saw some of my colleagues and their families returning home by foot without food and medical help. I will think twice about returning as the present situation is very worrisome.”

The exodus of migrant workers from several states became a humanitarian crisis in 2020, with thousands walking on roads and railway tracks

Meanwhile, New Delhi’s daily Covid tally has passed 20,000 cases. Due to the surge in infections, a lockdown is likely to be imposed, which is a cause of concern for migrant laborers.

The Delhi government has imposed night and weekend curfews to contain the virus, but migrant laborers are taking no chances this time and are preparing to leave for home.

The exodus of migrant workers from several states became a humanitarian crisis in 2020, with thousands walking on roads and railway tracks while ignoring the government’s plea to stay where they were.

On May 8, 2020, in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district, at least 16 such people were killed by a goods train, while at least 100 others were killed in road accidents acrosss the country.

Experts say less developed states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the main sources of migrants mostly employed in construction, factories, domestic work, textile, brick kilns, transportation and agriculture.

They are often denied basic entitlements including access to subsidized food, housing, drinking water, public health facilities, education and banking services. They often work in poor conditions devoid of social security and legal protection.

According to the 2011 census, internal migrants account for 37 percent of India’s population. This includes interstate migrants as well as migrants within each state.

Most female migrants cite marriage as the reason for migration, especially when the migration is within a state. For males, the major reasons for migration are work, employment and education.

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