What Lapses?
Were the Migrant Workers Human Beings?

Bhaskar Majumder

No, there was no lapses – it was planned – plan to fix the workers. It was decided to keep the workers under pressure – to force them to sob – to force them to walk 1,000 km, and then change labour laws to force them to work 12 hours a day. They walked on road in May 2020 – it was May, and not December-January, one has to remember for decades at least for the migrant workers were forced to walk barefoot, foodless. No, it was not lapses of wisdom – wise sections of India’s society were not fools. It was decided not to take any decision for the migrant destination-locked workers for first 40+ days of Corona lockdown.

The institutions in India are very strong – each institution has high carrying capacity with persons wisdom-personified. Many of them could advice the right steps in time. That was not done in my non-wisdom understanding. Death rolled on. Genocide on road was observed. Workers who fed us with open arms were assassinated. Some Sarvogyo (one who knows everything – Sarvo Vidya Paare Gatah) floated Advisories about sharing the cost for carrying the migrant workers to their root states, 85:15 or whatever non-sense. The migrant workers were seen valued less than goods – for goods train ran over them killing 16 persons sleeping on the track that included women and children. They had no belongings, however, excepting some dry Chaapaatis. What more could they have? They did not learn to dispossess others.

Many of my readers know that the producers of food grains died for Famine in 1943 for then also state was anti-poor and anti-labour. A system evolved in post-independent India that kept the size of parasites in the tertiary sector unchanged allowing their pension-in-service monotonically increased. Then pricing technique was used to show low productivity in agriculture as the cause of low income, suicides and death of farmers. Most of these farmers could not join the parasites for unnumbered reasons. The parasites, however, continued to fix the fate of the non-parasites. The non-parasites were in whirlpool, six months at home and six months distanced from home – this got nothing to do with “social distancing’’ – it  was at best family distancing.

Now the Apex Court of India rose to the occasion – took cognizance of the miseries of migrant workers and wisdomopined (opined wisdom-based) on May 26, 2020 that there had been 'inadequacies and certain lapses' by the Centre and the States, and asked them to provide transport, food and shelter immediately free of cost. Referring to various media reports showing the 'unfortunate and miserable conditions' of migrant labourers walking on foot and cycling long distances after the lockdown, the Apex Court issued notices to the Centre, the States and Union Territories and sought their replies by May 28, 2020. The Apex Court took suo motu cognisance of the conditions of the migrant workers and asked the Government of India and the state governments to immediately provide adequate transport arrangement, food and shelters. The Apex Court however felt that the circle worked well – both the Centre and the circumference with regional variations of course. But more was needed. It was the same Apex Court that observed on May 15 that it was impossible for the Courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers across the country and it was for the Government to take necessary steps in this regard.

I failed to internalize what the term “immediately’’ and “adequate’’ implied, that is, how the Governments at the Centre and on the circumference understood it? True, the state built many Hotels and Bungalows, buildings for the privileged over the past seven decades as a heritage drawn from colonial masters. Are those buildings going to be used as shelters for the migrant workers? Post-60+ days of lockdown the misery multiplied and the workers showed Bharat Walking. It was Ghar Wapsi. This walking on foot, eleven-year old child pulling a cycle cart 600 km. to reach home at Araria in Bihar from Varanasi, or Jyoti Kumari a girl child carrying her father on a bicycle from Gurugram in Haryana to Sirhulli in Darbhanga in Bihar – a distance of 1200 km. did not happen all on a sudden – it took time. Or, the misery of Rampukar who was forced-locked by police while trying to walk to home at a distance of 1000 km. to Bihar is not unknown by now to those who matter in India’s decisive institutional framework. Or, the death of migrants under the wheels of a goods train, or the death of many on road for fatigue and steering failure of vehicles were known to the determinants in the polity as it was known to the creamy layer of the civil society whatever be the home-locked syndrome. Genocide with home-locked 20:20 was an invention indeed.

Some of the home-locked zones became police-locked like the steel city of Rourkela in Odisha on May 26, 2020 as reported that is otherwise a peaceful state. The residents felt that they were kept in illegal confinement – innocent people had no idea what was legal and what illegal. The most stable state is Uttar Pradesh in conformism even after the migrant workers were sanitized or chemicalized (chemical-sprayed) on road – it was to save both the migrant workers and the resident-parasites. States differ in steps depending on the degree of acceptance of common men.

The Centre informed the Apex Court that migrant workers were being provided transportation by the Government to their destinations but the workers had to wait for their turn rather than start walking on foot amid the Corona crises. It seemed the Centre was concerned for the migrant workers – it was not; it was concern for the non-workers. One needs to understand what 40+ days meant for the manual migrant workers at the destination jobless, foodless, evicted by the thekedar/employer to be on the road. Not much wisdom is needed – some sensitivity is needed to understand that.

The views of polity may differ from that of civil society; different sections of non-workers may debate on the conditions of the migrant workers and calculate the number of deaths and all that. The Government so far did not declare the price of death – that the next kin of the dead under the wheel will get so much – if my memory works well. Does it help – providing compensation for state apathy?

The Apex Court behaved like Kumbhokarno – wake up after 60+ painful days of depression – it was not 1929-1933 Great Depression – it was a depression that distanced man from man. Most of the men were home-locked – how could they come forward to put hands on the shoulders of the migrant friends – hope the day does not come that the parasites do not become migrant workers. Of course, once reached home-state, nobody can stop these migrant workers from being home-locked. The state will feed – “roti-minus roji’’. Is the state planning that Indian Drama?

The lockdown was announced on March 25, 2020 for 21 days extendable though it was thought to have a parallel to 18-day War in the Great Epic Mahabharata. The workers waited for first 40 days of lockdown – their expectations were belied. The Apex Court did not take up their right to life suo motu for the wisdom best known to the wisdom-personified. A system that evolves also require its legitimacy – India living in many centuries and in different diversified regions often fail to express solidarity or differences. This does not mean that people accepted all the conditions miserable in nature – foodlessness, joblessness, shelterlessness, fear. The hands that produced food and moved the iron wheels were seen at the mercy of the privileged. How did privilege evolve for the few? Because, the non-privileged were dispossessed – so far they remained mute.

It is not that migrant workers in particular or common people in general live or die for intervention or not of the Courts in time. But when the scope came to serve God – the Apex Court turned it face away – in spite of being requested. Common people search for God – God searched for the Apex Court – the latter failed God. Now it is late in human history – the criminal history of mankind.

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

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Jun 2, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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