Let us respect labour and the labourer

Bhaskar Majumder

I take the assumption that India that is Bharat is fully integrated. Unity in diversity – people are home-locked – sleeping and not embarrassing those in charge of national integration. Meanwhile some interesting news have been in circulation like the houses in esteemed Parliament of India do not have space for “social distancing’’ and the state of Rajasthan has sealed its border or that the Government of Bihar had/has no time to take care of the bonded labourers and all that. Also the election season in West Bengal has been set in motion by the political heavyweight in a situation of tension in the north-east with the Dragon. The north-east is also burning not because of military or politics but because of fire in the oil field leading to death of some fire fighters.

In a large country like India that is Bharat these occurrences are not surprising. People in Bharat live with all these – forget most of the pains and remember only the pain of Sitamaayiya. The anchor-base is Ramayana and Heartland is the geography-base to keep civilization intact. The question of national integration is post-Westphalia 1648 that is very relevant for individuals are tested if they respect the state – abide by the state rules – and hence prove nationalism-national integration and all that. People are always ready to sing the song of the state – during surgical strike it was against Pakistan, now it is against China, in-between in border dispute around Kaalapani it was against Nepal.

National integration has no single dimension for it works in both convergence and divergence. Suppose, there is Constitutional permission of free movement of people in India seen as a geographic space and the Government of India authorizes it. Now part becomes more than the whole – Rajasthan declaring prohibition for entry from outside the state without sanction – how to read it? One, it could have been for very short-period in view of controlling Corona. But then if migrant workers like to enter the state of Rajasthan or traders/industrialists like to invest there, what happens? It could have been any other state on the circumference.

Personally I feel confused for what I have been observing since past three months post-Corona, 2019/2020. History records and history does not record. In Corona-context there may exist a direct and proportional relationship between the number of persons medically examined and the number of persons affected by the virus; again there may exist a direct and proportional relationship between the number of persons affected and the number of deaths occurred. However, counting may be a question mark for co-morbidity and statistical lie.

States on the circumference in competition is only one tiny component of history. The bigger component is the history-makers. I was thinking if a population of 1300 million standing on foot horizontally on India’s geographic area minus the necessary forest-hills-cropland-water bodies can be accommodated maintaining the norm of “social distance’’? A mathematician or a Lekhpal may answer this. But this is more than that – this is the question of accommodation of the rule makers who occupy seats in the esteemed Parliament of India. If they do not get seats maintaining social distance, who will formulate Acts for nation to obey?

From lockdown 1,2,3,4, unlock 1 has been set in motion. Meanwhile fear got injected in the blood of people – be it Rajasthan Dhanna Seth or be it West Bengal Bhadrolok. I am reported today the 10th of June, 2020 that passengers allowed sitting on the front next to the driver of auto rickshaw on Kolkata roads declined to occupy that seat for virus-fear implying less number of passengers and probable economic infeasibility from the viewpoint of the driver or owner of auto rickshaw. But I failed to understand how the driver could be virus spreader and not the co-passengers on the common back seat. So was the condition of Bus services in Kolkata where demand for raising ticket cost per passenger came forcefully that West Bengal people in general may fail to pay notwithstanding their competence in understanding poverty as a concept in abstraction.

It may seem surprising to some of my readers but still let me spell out that livelihood or living of the people at the bottom remains a concern for me more than who is going to be Corona virus affected or what number has been quarantined or as declared occasionally that India is doing better by Corona Index (CI) relative to other countries or that the recovery rate is higher than the rate affected and all that.

People in India experienced many terrors like partition-cum-riots 1947, 1962 conflicts, 1965 War, 1971 War, 1966-1967 drought and food-scarcity, border conflicts unnumbered times plus super cyclones, landslides, floods, earthquakes and all that. People learnt to live. State worked like a pillar. Now it seems Corona has erased all the past successes that India recorded or could have recorded. The present scenario as I try to discover from the look of the people above age 18 is as if they are dying today – those that are not living like Lakhinder as described in the story of Chand Sadagar. What I have been receiving through WhatsApp university is unnumbered Advisory – do this; don’t do that. These may kill people psychologically if they seriously follow those. The blessing is most of the people cannot read those and do not understand those. Life of common man has suddenly become so valuable post-Corona.

If that is so, I humbly suggest as a senior citizen to record the fate of the migrant workers – if they reached home-state, those willing in spite of border sealing. I would advice to unshackle the bonded labourers in Bihar – if they are still bonded. I would plead to pay the workers their dues while in lockdown and engage them in roti-roji. A false environment had been created that the destination-locked workers were to be unpaid for the period of lockdown and in spite of state willing (sic) capital was unwilling and the Apex Court supported capital based on conventional wisdom of “no work–no wage’’. Now the same companies and business houses are facing labour shortage, if they are to be believed, and expecting for the home-returned workers to re-join by next 45-60 days to work pre-shut down. These labour-depending sectors are construction and real estate sector, automobiles, textiles and consumer products. The re-migration of workers is important for firms to get production back on track. Some of these firms have made videos, apps, and taken steps to show what they are offering to the in-migrant workers in terms of security like health facilities, insurance and labour hostel.

I have no doubt that most of the workers who went back home even on foot will come back to the states with carrying capacity unless the border is sealed. Corporate willing, seal will wither away. State will follow capital. Apex Court will feel happy for non-intervening general equilibrium. The theory of reverse migration proposed by the sceptics will soon disappear for the returnee workers coming back to destination states or work zones there with or without new benefits.

Time has value – so life has. Labour activates time that produces what the non-labourers enjoy. It is not the time of political mapping as West Bengal has launched – it is time for nation-building. The beginning is labour – his life and living. What I propose is in national integration set labour at the centre – honour both labour and the labourer.   

Apology: I have full faith on the state.

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jun 13, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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