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No city for the poor

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11 years ago, Slumdog Millionaire, the Academy Awards winning Danny Boyle film, was criticized for various reasons. The foremost was the portrayal of the poverty in India and it was alleged by various sections of the society that the grim depiction of the characters living in slums of Mumbai in the movie was showing the slum dwellers throughout the length and breadth of India, in a bad light and violated their basic human rights. People also protested for the inclusion of the word “Dog” in the title of the movie. Nonetheless, the movie turned out to be a global commercial and critical success. Once again it was proved that if one can successfully turn Poverty into a spectacle, it will leave every other issue behind, in terms of revenue and publicity.

This is a time tested phenomenon in various spheres of the Indian society. Right from the days of “Gareebi Hatao”, this has been our favorite topic. In fact, with the inception of the age of social media, it has reached to a micro level and all of us are so obsessed with it. But it is rightly said that love can conquer all things except poverty and a toothache.

Coming to 2020, the lockdown in the Country has affected various strata of the society in different ways. While the rich and the middle class are worried inter-alia about their economic loss and loss of precious time, boredom and slow internet speed, it is the poor again, who has to bear the brunt of the Lockdown to the maximum extent. Landless, homeless and cashless people in countless numbers, suddenly discovered that suddenly, their struggle(s) in life changed in just a matter of few days. The present situation in metropolitan cities, industrial cities and the fertile areas where farming is done in abundance with the help of laborers is grim. Closure of Factories, establishments and other commercial activities (except for essential services) has left most of them, who are daily wage workers or contractual workers, without any work, money and any other resource. As a reason of the same, this strata of the society, left with no other option, decided to go back to their native place amidst the nationwide lockdown.

Despite the fact that the Government has subsequently announced various schemes for them, they have scant trust on the same, which is depicted from the action(s). In the recently concluded Delhi Elections 2020, these people were a major chunk of voters in Delhi. However, today, left with no other option, they have to leave Delhi and move to their respective native place(s), despite the nationwide lockdown. Is it safe to presume that such people will never be a part of Delhi, or for that matter any other similar Metropolitan Area, Industrial City or other areas where they move to in search of work and livelihood? A large number of them are fed and housed at the factories, shops and construction sites where they work at. This is in sharp contrast with the middle class who move to such cities/ areas to look out for better job opportunities, education and/ or improvement and betterment of their standard of life and per capita income.

People decided to walk hundreds of kilometers to their respective home towns/ villages/ native places despite the lockdown being in force and no means of transport is available. The media channels highlighting this, have successfully made a spectacle out of it, like the Slumdog Millionaire. Before any such reporting, it should have been considered that any panic reaction by any strata of the society upon seeing such reports on various channels, can be extremely harmful in the present situation. We have seen reporters of various media houses walking along with these people for a short distance to speak to them and feel their pain, but none have offered any constructive suggestion and the very next day, a sea of people gathered at Anand Vihar ISBT in Delhi, where no officials were seen to facilitate the smooth departure of people who have gathered. Some people have, though wrongfully, even compared this with the migration during the partition of India in 1947.

The inquiry and blame games will take their own sweet time. Few heads will roll. Over-dependence on Police Officials has also left our System crippled in such times. In the absence of any clear orders/ instructions, the Police will use force to control the crowd. This in turn, has provided fodder to netizens and keyboard warriors, who are seen blaming the Governments, both Central and State for the harakiri committed. However, the silver lining is the public-spirited citizens, NGO’s and other volunteers who have come forward to help and supplement the authorities who are working day and night in order to ensure that the purpose of the lockdown is achieved to its maximum efficiency. Fellow citizens should understand the fact that each one of us has to contribute in some way or the other and it is not a time to cry over spilled milk.

The Central and respective State Governments are doing their bit, but as citizens of this Nation, we should adhere to our fundamental duties first in times like these. Is the migration of these people in such times a collective failure of the Governments and the citizens? Why is it that these people could not trust the Government and their fellow citizens, employers, landlords in this emergency like situation? Are they looked upon only as a source of cheap labour and not human beings? Why is it that these people believed that despite all efforts, the Government will be unable to provide them with safety, security, food, shelter and other basic necessities? Are they practically left on their own, in times when the State has to safeguard them? Many of them would have, by now, reached their respective destinations. Many of them would not have.

After normalcy is restored, the Central Government should start working along with the State Governments on a concrete plan to reduce the migration of people and the concentration of population in and around Metropolitan Areas. It is also noticed by many people that since the lockdown, the pollution level has drastically reduced. It is high time to consider the caveat of nature and realize that our resources are limited and they have to be used judiciously.

Moreover, the present Laws should be strengthened and if needs be, new Laws be enacted in order to deal with a pandemic like situation.

In such times, there is an immediate requirement of help and love towards people who are in dire need of it. But then, love can conquer all things except poverty and a toothache.

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