Civil Society Rises in Defence of Stranded Migrant Workers

Samar Bagchi

This is a diary from 89-year old Samar Bagchi, former director, Birla Industrial and Technological Museum and now a roving environmentalist and science educator at school level, mostly belonging to economically weaker sections.

But for the spontaneous and humanitarian initiatives by the civil society activists, including NGOs, hurriedly- formed group initiatives and sporadic individual imperatives, hundreds of migrants who may be termed as Coronavirus oustees would have died. Unfortunately, the media virtually censors these human-interest stories.

Let me randomly jot down some of the philanthropic episodes chronologically.

About 10 days back I got a list from an activist organization of Jhakhand indicating the states where Jharkhand migrants were stranded with number of stranded migrants in each state and one phone number from each place. In West Bengal two groups were stranded at Durgapur and Murshidabad. I phoned up the migrants at two places. The  Durgapur group had problem with food. But Murshidabad group did not have any problem with food. They wanted to go back to Jharkhand. I spoke to Prof. Anupam Basu, Director of National Institute of Technology at Durgapur and he arranged food for the migrants through the state government machinery. Learning from this group another group of Jharkhand (whose name was not there in the earlier list) stranded at Durgapur contacted me. I arranged food for them with help of well-known journalist Ms. Aditi Roy Ghatak who has been associated with the efforts to save the helpless people, let down by unplanned lockdown for its anti-poor stance

Then I got information that in Ranchi some West Bengal migrants are stranded. I contacted the film maker and activist Sri Meghnad of Ranchi whom I knew. He arranged food for a group. I learnt that about 3000 migrants are stranded in Ranchi and around. Meghnad, who wrote the lyric for the theme song of award-winning documentary-film Gaon Chhodab Nahi  informed me yesterday that six  trains have arrived in Jharkhand with migrants and . that the Jharkhand Government had prepared in advance the names of each migrant with their particulars like Aadhar Card, places where they have been working etc. from each village of Jharkhand State and computerised them. This helped the state to book trains to bring back the migrants.

On 3rd May a Report appeared in The Telegraph about a group of 10 persons who started from Madhubani towards Bengal on foot with a pitiable tale of their suffering. After 2 days of long search I got the whereabouts of the group from the Reporter from Bolpur and I am in contact with them from yesterday night. They are coming along the Rail line and is reaching Jhajha station and proceed towards Jashidi. Attempt is being made to help them with food.

I got Report from National Alliannce for Peoples Movement, Maharashtra that 206 Bengali migrants were being looked after by them and they need help. So, I arranged food for them through Ms. Aditi Roy Ghatak.

A group has started on foot from Moradabad as reported in Anandabazar Patrika yesterday. I am in touch with them since yesterday evening. But as they are walking, they are out of network coverage.

I have arranged financial support by an individual to three organizations in Mumbai and Lucknow and Delhi working for migrants.

Finally, what further makes me critical about the media is a mischievous idea that the migrants might be cause of spread of Covid 19 infection. Why didn’t it come to their mind that hundreds of the destitute who were on foot towards them would have died on the way if they were Covid 19 careers.

I have been following two groups that started on foot, one from Madhubani in Bihar along rail line and the other from Mordabad in UP. 

The Madhubani group after walking about 50 KM halted at a railway station on the way. At night the railway police woke them up and put them on a goods wagon going to Burdwan according to police. But the train took them to Raxaul, a completely different place.  They came to Jhajha station in the noon of 6th May after walking about 500 Km and phoned me up. I arranged food for them through the local police. Then, yesterday West Bengal Government arranged a vehicle to take them to their homes after medical examination at Burdwan. 

I got Moradabad group's phone number from (seven parts) a reporter of Anandabazar Patrika and contacted them. I talked to them on telephone on the 5th evening. The next evening, they contacted me from Govindpur on GT Road near Dhanbad. They have travelled, about 900 KM - about 500 KM on foot and 400 KM by hitch hiking in trucks. as they told, I arranged food for them in the night through an ex- scientist of Fuel Research Institute living in Dhanbad. The gentleman also arranged an ambulance for them to bring them to West Bengal yesterday. After that I am not getting them on phone. I am trying to get in touch with them.

I got information this morning that Sri Meghnad arranged food for a large group of migrants of West Bengal. He is trying to arrange transport for them to come to WB.

I am amazed at the struggling spirit of the migrants. Getting to know their herculean spirit I was reminded of the novel "Grapes of Wrath" of Nobel laureate fiction writer  John Steinbeck, read about 70 years back (I am 89), which tells the story of the marathon journey of workers of a deserted  grassland created by the modern agriculture from mid- plains of America to California for work.

The NGOs and other initiatives expose the welfare state during the pandemic. My heart breaks reading such stories in the media and the heartlessness of the Modi government by sudden declaring the lock down on 24th March night. The central government got two months’ time to take action after the news of Covid-19 pandemic came. But BJP was busy with breaking the anti NRC/CAA/ NPA movement in Delhi, rioting at Delhi through Hindutva brigade, toppling the Congress Government. of MP and having bonhomie with Donald Trump, the President of USA. If advance action were taken, the tragedy faced by the migrants could have been avoided.   

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May 12, 2020

Samar Bagchi

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