Who are India’s ‘migrant workers’, and why is everyone talking about them during the COVID crisis and lockdown in India?

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Let’s not beat around the bush. Lockdown has been challenging for all of us. We are separated from our friends and extended family, not allowed to go out much, or to play sports. There are some silver linings though! For example, your parents will be working from home so maybe you see them more, you can watch more of your favourite movies, read some books, and pursue your hobbies without spending hours in traffic. While it is certainly stressful and everyone’s lives have changed, there are many in India who are much worse off than others.

Who are migrant workers? Migrant workers are those who come to big cities to find work. Many of them work as day labourers, earning a daily wage, as delivery people, or as construction workers, making roads and buildings. When the lockdown in India was announced with only 4 hours of notice, these hard-working people were hit the hardest.

All of a sudden, the work that they were hired to do on a daily basis was halted. The money they had in their pockets was what they had to live with.

There was no real plan announced by the government to get them home to their villages and families. They were kept in camps, with little access to food, some with their immediate families and children, with limited access to medical facilities. Transportation was stopped so there was no way for them to get a bus or a train back home to safety and to their loved ones.

Even now, when transportation has been started between states, and there are some trains and buses plying, they have to get a medical certificate saying they are COVID-free. They don’t have access to doctors like you and I do, and have had to spend what little money they have on medical certificates, and on transportation fares – as transport has not been provided by the government. What were they to do? They started walking home, walking for hundreds of kilometres as they couldn’t afford to wait or to buy tickets. Many with young children. Some have died along the way. Hungry and exhausted.

Their plight is being chronicled in the newspapers every day. Many conversations you have been and will be part of, are about them and about trying to make things a little easier for them. Some people are providing food to the families as they wait in interminable lines, some people are donating money to organisations that say they are distributing food and water to them. Their journey is far from over, and when they do reach their villages, many are being quarantined on the outskirts before being let in so that they reduce the threat of spread of the disease in the villages.

Let’s think about how we can help them more. Let’s pay attention in the next couple of weeks while people are talking about how to come to their aid. Let’s do what we can. Keep your eyes and ears open, and please do share your stories with us! Write to us at: mail@currentkids.in


Written by: Sunaina Murthy

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  1. As a children’s librarian I’d like to commend you for one of the best e-zines i’ve encountered. Timely coverage, well written. An excellent job.

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