The worst affected people due to the lockdown are migrant workers. Ever since the lockdown was imposed on 24th March 2020, they are found on streets, roads, bus stands, verandahs, under bridges, along the railway tracks etc.
Covid-19 lockdown has deprived them of their livelihood and right to live with human dignity. Lockdown turned them into refugees overnight. Their workplaces were shut, and most employees and contractors vanished. Now, they have no job, no money, no accommodation and no food. Their only desire is, to re-join with their family. It is heartening to see some of them being beaten and cained by the police in different places.
Untold misery of women migrant workers
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that women are half of the global migrant population.
Women are increasingly migrating on their own, often to enhance economic or education. Data indicate that the rate of female migration is growing faster than male migrants in many countries that receive high levels of migrants. Migration can improve autonomy, human capital and self-esteem as well as women’s authority and worth in their families and communities.
Deplorable hardships faced by women migrant workers due to lock down are heart rendering. A woman migrant worker on 17th May gave birth to a girl on board a Shramik special train that was going to Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Ishwari Yadav 23 year old delivered the baby around 1.50am with help of some women passengers on the train before it reached Nagpur railway station in Maharashtra.
A migrant woman, Sonia Devi, who was travelling from Odisha’s Baleshwar to Godda, delivered a baby girl in a bus while the vehicle was passing through Dumka in the wee hours of 14th May. She is a resident of Doba village in Godda district.
A migrant woman worker who was walking back to her village Satna in Madhya Pradesh from Nashik in Maharashtra was forced to give birth on the roadside . What is more harrowing is the fact that just after two hours after her delivery, she walked another 150 km, before she could find any help. Other woman migrant was forced to give birth under a roadside tree in Uttar Pradesh’s Lalitpur district after having covered a distance of 500 kilometers on foot.
A 12 year old girl died after walking nearly 150 km from Telangana to her native Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh on April 15, along with 11 others who worked with her on the chilli field at a village in Telengana.
The latest saga is of Bindia. Bindia and her husband Jatin Ram, who are in their early 20s, had set out from Ludhiana to their village in Bihar. Bindia the pregnant wife walked along with her husband over 100 kms. When the couple reached Ambala city on 20th the woman gave birth to a female child, but the child died immediately.
I met a migrant woman worker in Hyderabad who is a domestic help from Orissa. She had a different story to tell. “Once lockdown imposed, the house owner told me that they no longer require a domestic help and asked me to get out of the house immediately. I have no friends here other than other 4 women from Orissa who also faced the same. So I am here on the road trying to get back home”. A beautiful woman, but shabbily dressed. When I offered her a churidhar she refused to take it saying “ How can I wear it without a bath after one week on the road,? How can I have bath on this road?, not even a toilet I find here, there is no privacy at all”. She continued, “ All what I need now is some food, and some food items which will not get spoiled for next few days”… tears ran down our cheeks. We offered them some food.
Perhaps the most unnoticed and unrecognised fact is this. When I asked three migrant young girls “why are you not wearing masks, unanimously they said “we want pad not mask”. They were also working in families. Since lockdown they too are on the street struggling to get back home in Chhattisgarh. They have no money to buy clothes or pads to protect them from monthly menstruation. Thereafter we began to distribute pads to young migrant girls.
This is what majority of migrant women workers faced in India under lockdown. Covid -19 has deprived them of safety, security and right to privacy. In many places men and women are kept together in shelter homes or centres where women’s basic necessities are not met.
Heart rendering story of a woman from Sari Kale Khan shelter home in Delhi, where she stays with her husband, both from Uttar Pradesh cannot be forgotten. Clutching the four-year old daughter she said “ Please take a look at the place where we go to get drinking water and then see the condition of the bathroom next to it”. Added to it, is the harassment by the police.
“During a public health crisis, increased government action may be necessary to preserve public health welfare”, said Justice Chandrachud while speaking at a webinar organised by Nyaya Forum of National Academy of Legal Studies.
As Madras High Court rightly said “One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month. It is nothing but a human tragedy”.
However India forgot about the safety and security of migrant workers under lockdown. Governments failed to set up shelter homes for them considering the needs of women who really need more privacy and safety. Even today some States are not accepting their migrant citizens back and some States are not bothered to send them back too. Every State should make necessary preparations to bring back their citizens. At least in the fifth phase of Lockdown these migrants should reach safe in their homes.(Published on 1th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 23)