The Migrant’s March across the heart of India

Yesterday evening, Uma Sudhir of NDTV and I, during the course of reporting, met a group of men and women, walking through Secunderabad. The group, carrying a bag or two each, were not walking a few kilometres away to the outskirts. Their destination was Sahibganj in Jharkhand. Yes, you heard it right. 

Uma asked one of them in Hindi, “Kitna din lagega (how many days will it take?)”

His reply : “How do I know? I have not done this before.”

I googled the distance. 1804 km. In this sweltering heat of above 40 degrees, no money to buy food – not that outlets are open – with women and children walking alongside. Harsh as it may sound, I would not bet on the odds of many in this group making it to Sahibganj.

Gandupariya and Prajapati are not names you would not find on any plaque in Hyderabad. But these are the people who are actually building this wonderful city, brick by brick, tile by tile. Yet in this lockdown age, we have locked them out, thrown them at the mercy of the elements. In those fancy drone shot city videos that are regularly shared over Whatsapp, they would be like ants walking on the road, insignificant, left to fend for themselves. 

A few days after the lockdown began, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had asked the migrants to stay put, promising to take care of them. But with the lockdown being extended for the third time, patience began to wear thin. The state was unable to take care of the needs of every migrant. A government estimate puts the number at around 6 lakh. In most cases, migrants say they had not been paid wages for two to three months. Money withdrawn through the ATM exhausted, the migrants decided to distance themselves from Hyderabad. Some workers pointed out that since they refused to resume work, they were asked to vacate the premises. 

The police was of little help. They offered to give them travel passes but the onus of arranging transport to take them home to Bihar or Jharkhand was theirs. The one train that the Telangana government in collaboration with the Railways had organised one train over the weekend for 1200 migrant workers from Jharkhand, was also forced by the fact that those workers had run riot at the IIT campus. But the train made many others hopeful that they too could hop on to one as well. But wandering from station to station did not get them anywhere. 

Now realising that it was difficult to get the migrants to extend their stay, the state government has said it will run 40 special trains to Jharkhand, Bihar and Bengal daily. But what about those who have already embarked on the journey, often oblivious to the direction in which they need to walk.

These men from Bharat have no compass. Nor does India that seems to have lost its moral compass. 

For proof, refer to social media posts that give a glimpse into how a part of educated India thinks. The great Indian middle class finds it appalling that these men and women cannot stay put “when their food was being taken care of”. At least that is what they think. Such posts point out how these people will hasten the spread of Corona virus by not following social distancing. 

Wish they would cast an eye at their neighbourhood across different states where the same Indian middle class is thronging wine shops, the queues throwing social distancing norms to the wind, for a bottle of liquor. H for Hypocrisy

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