The Corona virus has struck the world a deadly blow – and it is not done with packing its punches, yet.
While it has led to wide-scale disruptions across industries and businesses alike, there is a strong public sentiment – mostly as outrage against the government, in support of the many and many migrant laborers who have had to suffer the most during these dire times.
While one cannot shy away from this fact, there is possibly a silver lining amidst this grim situation as well – the Aam Janta has finally started to talk about the welfare of these migrants stuck without food and other essential items in various parts of the country. Or at least, they seem to do so on various Social Media platforms.
There is a growing concern among netizens about the whole migrants-movement situation- possibly triggered by the series of photos floating around the digital ethos, that captures the anxiety, desperation and helplessness of these migrants. The opposition too, has taken the government to the cleaners on its supposedly “ill-preparation” for performing this exercise. It is, however to be noticed, it is at the demand of a few states only that the centre was made to arrange for the movement of the laborers. But the buck doesn’t stop there.
A public discourse is being created on Social Media to blame each of these casualties on the central and state government(s), practically resulting in constant media trials of those in power. While questioning those in power is a healthy democratic exercise, there have been incidents in recent times, where people have gone far too ahead with their slap-stick judgments and criticisms of the government. All of this brings us to our most important question – Is this a sign that we do really care for these migrants? Well, the reality is far from what it seems, if we look closely.
There are some observations around migrant labor and the pre-Corona laws protecting it in India that are worth taking notice:
- According to this report, there are close to 139 Million migrant laborers across India.
- This article explains how 80% of India’s total workforce comprises of migrant workers – factory hands, delivery boys, loaders, cooks, painters, rickshaw pullers – You name it.
- These migrants form the largest chunk of India’s vast unorganized work sector. However, due to the lack of critical skills, information and bargaining power, migrant workers often get caught in exploitative labour arrangements that forces them to work in low-end, low-value, hazardous work.
- These migrant laborers have very little immunity in terms of job protection. According to this article, the Industrial Employment(Standing Orders) Central amendment rules, 2018 doesn’t require a notice of termination for a temporary workman. Further, it also does not hold fixed-term workman eligible for any kind of termination notice or pay in lieu thereof as and when their contract expires. So, basically they live everyday with a fear of getting fired every day. Just imagine that!
- The compensation for injuries to workers in the course of employment are the lowest in India as compared to other sectors, as per the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923.
- While the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act 1979 guarantees to protect workers whose services are requisitioned outside their native states in India, it is generally not observed in good spirit. Recently, we saw how some of the state governments such as Maharashtra and New Delhi did not comply with this.
So, it is very clear that the migrants anyway had to suffer due to these existing laws – whether Corona came into the picture or not. Had the so-called perennial sympathizers been so vocal in discussing these issues earlier, we could have dealt this situation better.
On a different note, we Indians seem to care about gaining attention a lot. Any prevailing issue which seems to get a lot of limelight – by media and other controversial segments of the society – is an automatic choice to be followed subsequently, while other important issues are often kept at bay. For instance, it was easier to convince people that CAA will drive a certain section of society out from the country and create a total ruckus of the judicial and democratic system of the country. People gave blind support to those agitations, without even being fully aware of the act – in ink as well as in spirit.
While issues such as Migrant Labor rights and their upliftment don’t generate the amount of mileage as we would expect to. For example, one of the most ominous threats – climate change – is hardly discussed as part of general discourse in India. Forget arranging dialogues, people very often have a devil-may-care attitude towards solving this crisis. Another example is of poverty, which has been India’s achilles’ heel on the path of its long-awaited glory. After around 70 years of independence, we still have around 30% of our population living under Rupees 35 per day.
Of course, there are people who have come forward to offer services for the benefit of these migrants. While no act of kindness is small, these people are setting exceptional examples in terms of providing assistance to the stranded migrants who continue to walk on foot on way to their hometowns. This is the need of the hour -these being unprecedented times, demand active participation from the citizens. A well collaborated effort which includes the government, NGOs, as well as the willing citizens is required to fight this Pandemic.
So next time when you see someone cribbing about the migrant crisis – you know what to do – ask them if they really care and do something about it. While the government is trying its best to cater to the requests of all classes of the society, in case there are some voids left, we must try to see if we can fill those.
For any elected government in the world in the world performs only as good as the people who have elected it. PERIOD.