When Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020 thousands of migrant workers in different cities became restless due to lack of food and essentials for their daily living. Neither the Government officials nor those who employed them bothered about their livelihood when they lost their daily work. Thousands of them started moving out leaving the large cities to reach their homes in far away villages in different states. Neither the lack of transport facilities nor the long distance stopped them. They started walking through roads. But when police started beating them for breaking the lockdown rules they took the railway tracks to walk. Men and women ventured out carrying their little children and luggage.
Neither those who were running the government nor their employers were sensitive to them. If the politicians and bureaucrats who were running the government had sensitivity and foresight they could have first arranged transport for those who wanted to leave the cities for their homes before declaring the lockdown.
Despite thousands walking hundreds of kilometres neither the political leaders nor those in government bothered about their hardships. Reports say that 42 workers were killed in road accidents within a few days. When 16 workers were run over by a goods train at Satana village near Aurangabad on 8th May morning governments and politicians were woken up. It is an insult that the MP Chief Minister fixed Rs. 5 lakh as the price for the life of each dead person. May be because they were poor. The irony is that the Government decided to send a special train to ferry the dead bodies to their village.
Despite thousands of workers started walking from different cities those who run the government were not sensitive to make arrangements for their transportation for many weeks. At last when the trains were arranged for the workers to go home they were charged heavily.
Different state governments were prompt to arrange hundreds of buses to bring the students back from the coaching centres of Kota in Rajasthan. Was it because the children belonged to rich families ? As per the records India has 487 million workers in unorganized sector which contribute largely for the economic growth of the country. Half of them belong to the category of migrant workers. Neither those who employ them nor the labour department of the Government bother to provide them decent living conditions and other essential facilities in the cities where they are employed and exploited. Hence they wanted to escape and reach their homes.
While discussing about the problems of migrant workers walking in the hot sun one of my friends asked, “where are the social workers and church organisations? Why can’t they do something for their transportation?” This question provided food for contemplation. I realized that many of us may not be able to intervene in this major issue of millions of migrant workers in our individual capacity for various reasons. However I felt that this issue need to be addressed at our community and institutional level. We are quick to criticise the Government and politicians for their failures . Each one of us have much to look into our way of life and value system at this time.
The religious communities and institutions employ workers. Many of them are from far away villages of the same state or from other states. They leave their dear and near ones in search of employment and livelihood. Many who work with us also are migrant workers. We may be paying them wages, giving a place to stay and food to eat. The most important question we need to answer is, “what are the ways we make them feel at home? Do we provide them freedom, love and individual dignity which make them even to forget their home in a distant region?”
When many priests and religious come to USM community for exposure and training they are inspired to see the responsibility with which the workers who serve in the house behave ; the freedom, dignity and joy they experience in the community. They eat the same food at the same table like anybody else in the community. They have the freedom to watch TV whenever they wish, they have the freedom to laugh and sing as they wish. They decide the menu of each meal. They themselves purchase the provisions. There is no one to supervise them yet they manage their work well with self discipline and punctuality. They also join all the prayers like all others in the community , lead the prayers and operate the music system as in their homes. They experience dignity and receive very decent and just salary. They welcome the guests and make them at home as responsible community members.
Another point of reflection and introspection would be about the responsibility and loyalty of Sisters and Priests to their community. Whenever I have asked to many religious Sisters and Priests about their emotional attachment to the mission , a vast majority promptly of them have said that they were more emotionally attached to their families than to their religious community .
The members of a religious community also belong to different states and regions of this vast country. After long years of formation they make their commitment to the Congregation. The question is, why don’t they feel at home in the religious community and always thinking of the near and dear ones at home?
Superiors of the communities always complain that the members do not have loyalty and commitment to the community and mission. Rules are made to control the ‘misuse’ of freedom and resources by the members who have made life commitment to the community. Superiors often make the so called ‘visitation’ to communities more to supervise and control than to motivate.
When the members of the community do not experience dignity, freedom, love and compassion they will not know how to express the same values to the workers in their communities and institutions. Neither they are aware of the plight of the millions of migrant workers in different parts of India nor will they give dignity and justice to those who work for them. Where there are more rituals, rules, imposed austerity and violation of individual dignity, there workers and members suffer more injustice and exploitation.
Though we cannot intervene in the case of millions of migrant workers in the country to improve their condition, religious communities and members could resolve to create an atmosphere where every worker may feel at home and experience the freedom , individual dignity and justice. Why don’t the communities create an atmosphere of feel at home for all their members and experience freedom and facilities of a home?
The criteria of all practices should be based on this test : What would Jesus do if He were here ? What is the mind of Christ? What is the heart of Christ? This is the way to return to Christo centric way of life and mission.
Then the distinction of workers and members will disappear and the community mission will be more fruitful . Neither the workers who have come from far away states feel helpless to stay and work in the community nor the community members look for emotional attachment to their family staying in far away regions .
The plight of millions of migrant workers in the country should help us to review our commitment to renew and reinvent ourselves for building the kingdom of God here and now.(Published on 25th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 22)