Disguised Genocide of Migrant Workers: Post-Corona

Bhaskar Majumder

Rational behaviour of an individual is not always individual-determined; it is a reflection of group behaviour also where the latter is conditioned by the national conditions and circumstances that mould the group behaviour. The persons at the peak by the privilege of defining others also use the common yardstick to judge if the persons outside the domain of privilege got the social space to be rational. A non-normal environment or an environment of fear also often conditions the behaviour of an individual – call it rational or irrational.

A society that is segmented historically by both horizontal and vertical distance philosophized by social norms and values understood by purity and impurity often obscure rationality of the people segmented. In this frame, the Sudras or women are irrational that however does not imply that non-Sudras non-women are rational. The reason why I was beating around the bush was many comments that I listened to following the death of the migrant workers, often including their family members, on railway tracks and roads as irrationality of the victims. The non-migrant privileged individuals were apparently rational, as they felt so, when they asked why the migrant workers slept on the railway track. Or, why did they get crammed inside a cement mixer tagged to a moving truck on road? Or, why did they start walking when they could have waited some days more post-40+days for the welfare state to decide who would pay their travel cost and hence bring them back through appropriate mode of transport. The irrationality was reflected in workers loss of patience, being adamant for Ghar Wapsi and all that. What did the workers get in the process, apart from being lathicharged, suffocating for tear gas shells, and chemical forced sanitization?

• Five migrant workers died and fifteen injured in an accident in Narsinghpur of Madhya Pradesh after the truck they were travelling in overturned a few days back, as reported electronically. The migrants were on their way to Uttar Pradesh from Hyderabad in the state of Telengana. The truck was overloaded already with mangoes – it was mango-season. The truck was carrying mangoes +18 persons including two drivers and a conductor.
• The notorious killing of 16 migrant workers under railway track in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra just prior to that had been well circulated for public consumption. The leftover on the tracks was some pieces of dry chapattis (indigenous bread). The victims, aged between 20 and 35 years, hailed from Umaria and Shahdol districts of Madhya Pradesh and were working in a steel factory in Jalna, as reported.
• A truck carrying a group of 54 migrant labourers and their families from Ahmedabad in Gujarat to Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh rammed into a stationary truck near Lalpur police post on Kanpur-Jhansi highway, killing three people and injuring 43 others.
• In an incident in Chitrakoot, a migrant labourer returning home in Uttar Pradesh from Chhattisgarh on a bicycle was killed after being hit by a truck. The labourers had stopped on the roadside near Kalchiha village in Chitrakoot to take rest when they were hit by the speeding truck.
• A 34-year-old migrant worker died on board a Pune-Prayagraj Shramik Special train a few days back and his post-mortem has been conducted.
• Six migrant labourers who were walking to reach their homes in Bihar from Haryana were run over by a bus on the highway between Ghalili Check Post and Rohana Toll Plaza, as reported. Besides six migrant labourers who died on spot, five workers had been seriously injured. The identified ones were in the age bracket 20 to 30.
• In an incident, eight migrant workers were killed and nearly 50 injured when the bus in which they were travelling collided with a truck near Guna town in Madhya Pradesh. The accident took place between 3 am and 4 am when the victims were on their way to Uttar Pradesh border from Maharashtra.
• Eight migrant labourers have been killed in a road accident in which the truck they were travelling in collided with a bus. They were travelling in a container truck to go home in Uttar Pradesh.

The state governments in agreement with the Government of India facilitated the workers post-40+ days for Ghar Wapsi. Still then the workers, rather than depending on the competent authority, started walking on road, on railway tracks, bi-cycled, availed trucks or whatever they found on road for what many of them uttered “Mera Ghar Jana hai’’ (I must go home). This was surely irrationality.

• Why did they migrate?
• Why did they have greed for positive wage-differential? (Of no! It is rational).
• Why did they start walking a distance without understanding it?
• Why did many of them start walking on railway track?
• Why did they become incapacitated to pay travel cost?
• Why Ghar Wapsi?

As a migrant, I believe I may be a stakeholder in sophisticated language to respond on behalf of my migrant friends.

1. The workers migrate each year to same or different destinations on their own or drawn by thekedar for absence of wage-work at root for four to six months. Advance wage helps that gets adjusted at the destination – workers know that this advance wage is interest-free. Some also borrow prior to leaving the root to keep family alive.

2. In many situations, it is not positive wage-differential but distressed migration that drags the workers to different destinations.

3. The migrant workers started walking for they had two able legs.

4. The migrant workers started walking on railway tracks to avoid police security that often gets reflected in getting lathicharged or extra-legal money transfer.

5. They became incapacitated to pay travel cost for they got their wages exhausted by 40+ days of lockdown declared that made them in a condition of “no work-no wage’’.

6. The migrant workers were adamant for Ghar Wapsi for they did not like to die unnoticed unrecorded at the destination or on road.

The central point was Ghar Wapsi – had it not been central, then desperate exit from the destination would not have happened and hence the cumulative massacre would not have happened. What followed from my primary survey in most of the major states in India, for some migrant workers room-house was locked in the root-village for months post-migration, for some dependent less able parents were awaiting their son to come back, some had marriageable daughter waiting, some had loan to repay, and of course some had to search for opportunities in cultivation in Khariff season and MNREGA works.

As reported, most of the path to be walked was long-distance. The irrational workers were waiting for 40+ days to see if the thekedar or the employer or the Sarkaar (Government) would provide them support to go back home. The workers had no idea about the Inter-state Migration Act, 1979 as the “pari-likhi’’ (educated) people know – idea about whose responsibility it was to send them back to root-village and with what time lag post-lockdown.

Rather than counting the death of migrant workers as a number and then calculating the percentage of total migrant workers nationwide or as percentage of total workers in the unorganized segment or as percentage of total working population, let me try to be rational. I call it “disguised genocide’’ for the deaths that occurred and deaths-on-queue remain unnoticed except by the road-administrators, namely, police and public administration. The police record and National Crime Bureau may make it public who died by name on road or what number– under the wheels or some other reasons like fatigue. It may not be clear who disappeared for India is a country of 130 crore population. I believe the governments at both the Centre and the states will record these deaths of migrant workers on road as genocide. It may be a different question who administered this.

Apology: I have full faith on police-public administration for their support for migrant workers on roads.

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

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May 16, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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