Hello Mr. India! I am Migrant Worker! You have named me so.
I belong to the vast army of lakhs of those workers who have no option but to look for a living as migrant workers outside our home states.
You are well aware we are not Ambani’s children, nor Adani’s. We don’t belong to the happy-go-lucky gang of the siblings of the Bollywood stars. Our parents do not parade themselves on catwalk advertisements to glamorise and sell a pen or a bottle of Horlicks and thereby pocket lakhs as fees. Nor are our parents capable of making a safe exit as guided missiles from the country after looting banks with the connivance of the levers of power. We are not that connected!
We dug the foundations of your stylishly luxurious iconic Antilla-like homes or posh malls and business towers and raised them up sky high. For ad’s sake, some of us were glamorised by you as ‘home beauticians’ because of our painting work!
You capitalised on our hard work and we never heard of the inauguration of those monuments even as our temporary makeshift huts rubbed shoulders with them in the same vicinity.
You are in your own world. And, in this coronavirus pandemic period, you have become more withdrawn into the inner sanctum of your private life after throwing us out in the streets. We have become like sugarcane residue after you sucked the juice out of our lives.
We were given ‘get out’ marching orders with a midnight knock and you downed the shutters. We saw you clapping from the balconies, the reason we were ignorant of. We walked miles and miles, hungry and thirsty. We had tiny tots on our shoulders and knapsacks on our backs. Our children, walking barefoot for miles limped and bled. You looked the other way. On occasions you were entertained by the khaki glad and lathi-wielding gang who engaged us into a frog leap game on the hot tarmac of the national highways.
You provided no transport to help us reach home, while you had your sons and daughters brought safely home in air conditioned buses from neighbouring states.
You insensitively questioned our wisdom in sleeping on the railway track after 16 of us were crushed and splintered by your speeding and unannounced train. The railway track was the only clean strip they saw for a little rest after walking miles and miles. They knew the railways had announced the non-running of the trains. You never cared to fulfil your duty of announcing the resumption of the trains. The levers of power are with you and you are sure you will not be penalised for murder.
Nor will you be taken to task for the murder of the dozens of migrant workers who stopped breathing while travelling home. You will say it was their fault to travel home. You are very clever Saheb, because clever answers are up your sleeves in Charlie Chaplin style. We saw even your media lackeys skilfully turning their camera on us and they made mincemeat of their clips and scraps to please their Big Brother.
This India! I see mushrooming of huge buildings, shopping complexes, high rise mansions, air-conditioned saloons or skyline over-bridges. I hear workers are being recruited by agents and middlemen for working on Prime Minister Modi’s dream plan, New Delhi’s Central Vista Project, even as coronavirus pandemic is gyrating with death dance. So, there is no lack of wealth. Our nation is rich enough to write off lakhs of crores from wilful defaulters. But we poor and neglected workers wallow maggot-like in misery!
Was it our mistake when your lackeys announced resumption of trains and we assembled at railways stations just to be thrashed by the lathi-happy police? Even as we are on our way back home, we are stopped by contractors’ middlemen saying we are needed to remain back; otherwise the contractors and engineers will lose their job or development projects will come to a halt. What an irony! In order that they may not lose their job, they want to play on our lives. In order to run the wheels of their industry they need our energy even as you, Mr. India, are making better labour laws in favour of the capital owner. Development for whom? The class mentality and political connivance are seen through. (In the moralistic story: The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Anderson, it is an innocent child who points out that the Emperor is in procession with no clothes on. While everyone realises it, but afraid to admit it, the truth is revealed by a child. And, even as the Emperor realises it then, he has to finish the procession and shamelessly moves on!)
Mr. India, you do not understand the agony of our aged parents, wives and children who are at home anxiously waiting to see us home. You do not want us to reach home or even die at home peacefully in the presence of our near and dear ones.
We may be illiterate. Our huts may be built with bamboos and mud walls. But, even in poverty, there is mental piece. My boss back in Gujarat had a gun under his pillow. He never slept peacefully. We are not like that, Saheb!
We are poor. Not because of our choice. Even as you are educated, you still console us saying it is our fate to be poor. After seeing all that amassed wealth in cities and even chaiwallas and tongawallas turning billionaires, I just cannot say it is fate that keeps us voiceless and miserable. May be, we rural folks are too simple. We never think of using knives and pistols or tools of power game. We never think of becoming truant capitalists in connivance with the politically connected.
Our kabaddi game is totally different from that of you city folks. We do it for fun and entertainment in the presence of all village folks. You have your hideout to play it. And, you say it is fate that keeps some in the grip of poverty while others like you thrive. Our lands are appropriated by big industrialists who enjoy political favour and displace lakhs of people and dump them into the migrant working class. Is it our fault, Boss, like sleeping on railway tracks? The tribal areas are rich with natural and mineral resources. That is where your agents grabbed and lacerated our lands with quarries and mines and threw us out. With our suppressed voice we suffer exploitation as mute victims. You call it development!
Mr. India, our sweat and blood have made it possible for you to live in clean homes, posh palaces and enjoy mirth and music. We clean your latrines and stables. We empty your drains and vomit. We cook your food. We drive your cars. We dust your tables. We lay brick by brick to provide you with comfort villas and resorts. Our women, with children perched in their side slings and carrying precariously balanced bricks, will not provoke any empathetic feelings in you. Because, you want your pound of flesh in Shylock style!
Your henchmen were there to extort us migrant workers who were waiting for trains. When the ticket rate was only about 700 or so from Gujarat, we were asked to pay Rs. 3000/- per ticket to Mr. X. When he did not supply tickets, workers were thrashed for demanding tickets or ticket money. It is a different matter he was arrested. People with clout and enjoying favour know how to get off the hook.
Know that we have our fundamental right to live a decent life. If we are unemployed, the state has the duty to honour our right. We are forced into migrant labour due to poverty or lack of work in our home state. Or, because our farmlands do not get irrigated for a second crop. Or, because we are not trained to develop our skills, we cannot engage in entrepreneurship or use our resources. We do not belong to the upper class society where our children are educated to become engineers, executives or apex court judges!
We are tired of hearing ‘Sab ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas.’ A beautiful slogan, but sickening because it has lost its sheen. We migrant workers live as nonentities, Saheb, while you narrate many a success story about this Mahan Bharat to please the ears of investors and admirers abroad. Mera Bharat Mahan!(Published on 18th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 21)