Dear Railways, Migrant Dead in the Train Toilet Was 38. Not Everyone Dying is “Old

Social Commentary

Dear Railways, Migrant Dead in the Train Toilet Was 38. Not Everyone Dying is “Old

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

The coronavirus pandemic has extracted the heaviest cost from the migrant workers of India. Most of them have lost jobs due to the lockdown, didn’t have money to buy adequate food or water, had to walk hundreds of kilometres because their employers didn’t accommodate them and finally when they are being moved, politicians play petty politics even over their dead bodies.

The Shramik trains that are now moving back migrants to their home states have been a source of much controversy, after many trains had to be diverted and passengers complained that they were not provided food or water, even leading to around 10 deaths.

NDTV reported that the body of a 38-year-old migrant worker was discovered in the toilet of a train in Uttar Pradesh’s Jhansi railway station. The man was found by railway workers sanitising the train after a round trip.

Mohan Lal Sharma, a daily wager in Mumbai was left without a job or money due to the lockdown and planned to head back home to UP’s Basti district. On boarding, Sharma had spoken on his mobile to a relative and asked to be met at Gorakhpur station. However, when the relative tried to later call the next day, his phone was switched off.

Railway workers were shocked to find his body while disinfecting the coaches. Sharma had been “carrying ₹28,000, a bar of soap and some books. He wanted to come home because there was no work,” said Kanhaiya, a relative.

“This was an empty rake and empty rakes are locked. When we carried out maintenance we found the body. None of the railway doctors in any division along the train’s route received any calls that someone was ill,” Manoj Kumar Singh, Railways PRO, said.

Railway northcentral put out a series of tweets claiming that no medical assistance was sought by Sharma during the entire journey and that the required action was taken immediately by the Railways.

However this isn’t the first instance of a death inside a Shramik train. The Indian Railways has continued to maintain most of these people were old, had comorbidities, and had gone to the cities for treatment. A spokesperson for the ministry of railways told HT that “a few deaths have been reported in Shramik special trains. In most of these cases, it is discovered that those who died are old sick people and chronic disease patients, who had actually gone to big cities for medical treatment and could come back only after the Railways started these Shramik Special trains.”

While the Railways keeps issuing vague clarifications on Twitter regarding these deaths, it doesn’t want to entertain the simple premise that a lot of these hardships could be attributed to the fact that there has been a breakdown in communication within the bureaucracy, whether it was relating to who will pay for the tickets, or ensuring that food and water is received by the migrants, or ensuring timely and apt communication if trains were being diverted for the kind of long hours that they were. While big claims are made in Court, the reality on the ground continues to remain dismal for migrants on these trains.