The Tragic Image of a Migrant Worker Clutching a Baby as He Climbs a Truck Should Haunt Us

Coronavirus

The Tragic Image of a Migrant Worker Clutching a Baby as He Climbs a Truck Should Haunt Us

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

If there’s one thing that has become clear over the last two months, it’s that no one has anticipated how long the lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic would last.

This uncertainty has taken its toll on our country’s poorest — the migrant daily wage workers, many of whom have been attempting to walk hundreds of kilometres back home with empty pockets and stomachs.

Trains services have resumed in the country from today after nearly two months but they are limited. Millions of migrants stranded across India are now losing patience and desperate to go home. With little faith in the Centre and state governments, they are doing everything they can to find a ride that will ferry them to their villages and hometowns.

This reverse migration, and the distressing clips that have followed, have been like a punch in the gut for the middle and upper class India. A tragic image doing the rounds on social media show a number of migrants scrambling to board a truck in Chhattisgarh. While this has unfortunately become a familiar sight over the past few weeks, what is heartbreaking is the man holding an infant with one hand as he tries to get onto the vehicle.

The original video, shot in Raipur, shows men and woman who have been travelling from Telangana to Jharkhand, hanging off the side of a truck by a rope, with their possessions and families, in an attempt to find a way back home. “What do we do… we are helpless. We have to go to Jharkhand. There is no other way,” one of the elderly men told reporters.

As politicians continue to argue about who will bear the cost of the migrants’ travels, it seems the labourers woes are far from coming to an end. Similar scenes have been witnessed in several parts of the country. Journalist Barkha Dutt posted a video of workers from Bihar running after a truck near Rajasthan’s Bewar.

On city highways, walking migrants has become a common sight. With no food and no savings left, their misery continues.

After being disappointed by fall promises made by politicians, autorickshaw drivers from Maharashtra have also decided to ride home. Thousands of autos were seen fleeing cities on the Indore stretch of the Agra-Mumbai highway on Sunday along with their families. Their belongings were loaded into the three-wheeler, as more than 8,000 of them set off on a 1400-km journey. The rickshaws bore Maharashtra number plates, and were likely headed for UP and Bihar, reports said.

Another report from Mumbai, by Barkha Dutt, showed labourers cramped in the back of a truck, attempting to travel back to their hometowns in Uttar Pradesh. The migrants said they had no other option but to attempt to go back home after receiving no clarity over the fate of their train tickets, or any future source of income.

The Maharashtra government, according to reports on Monday, has decided to allow thousands of migrant workers to return home on humanitarian grounds. “It is true that migrant labourers who are walking back to their hometowns hundreds of kilometres away are in a way violating lockdown norms, but we are letting them go on humanitarian ground,” said Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.

But for many, this long journey is proving to be disastrous. In Thane, a worker who walked 16 hours from a Mumbai suburb was duped by a tempo driver who promised to drop him to Reva in Madhya Pradesh.

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