Nightmare on Shramik Specials: Infant Dies without Medical Help, Some Starve to Death


Nightmare on Shramik Specials: Infant Dies without Medical Help, Some Starve to Death

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

The Shramik Special trains announced by the Indian Railways have been operating for over a week, ostensibly engaged in ferrying back migrant workers stranded due to the nationwide lockdown back to their home states. However, the operation of these trains has been blighted by reports of substandard conditions for the passengers, mismanagement of routes, and in some extreme cases, of passengers dying while travelling.

As reported by Telegraph, a 46-year-old migrant worker on one of these trains, from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh, died of hunger, his nephew claimed. He had nothing to eat or drink for 60 hours. The Railways released a statement saying that the deceased man had a pre-existing heart condition, which might have played a role in his death. Sadly, this was not the only reported case of a passenger dying on these trains due to negligence or lack of facilities.

An infant of only 10 months also died on a special train in Uttar Pradesh, news reports said. The child’s family claimed that despite requests for medical attention, their pleas went unheard and the child died while travelling. A doctor was made available only after four hours but it was too late. The family was then transported to a quarantine centre in Tundla as it was suspected that the baby had died of coronavirus.

These troubling stories have been emerging from across the country. On Sunday, three deaths were reported from three separate Shramik Special trains. Kanpur District Magistrate Brahma Deo Ram Tiwari was quoted as telling the media that all three passengers had serious ailments, and that their travel history was being examined.

Journalist Saahil Menghani has been sharing videos shot from inside these Shramik Special trains, which show the miserable conditions on board the coaches. In the videos, passengers claim there is no water to even wash their hands or perform ablutions, let alone to drink. The food served is also of inferior quality.

Passengers have accused the authorities of behaving in a high-handed manner with them when they requested information or amenities.

Additionally, the trains are taking much longer than usual to reach their destination, and in some cases being diverted entirely, as the story of one UP-bound train that ended up in Odisha shows. Forty-one trains have reportedly ferried passengers to the wrong destinations. The Railways have claimed that this move is normal, and taken to decongest the routes, while the passengers on board claim to have been completely unaware of the new course.

Though the aim of the Shramik Special trains, which is to give stranded migrants a means to return home, is a humanitarian one, the stories about the execution of this operation leads one to believe that the journey has been nothing short of a nightmare.