Am I Guilty of being a poor citizen of the country?
Am I Guilty of working in the unorganised sector of the economy ?
Am I Guilty of being so illiterate person who is not even aware of his/her fundamental rights ?
Am I Guilty of not being able to provide you with big donations for your political agendas ?
If I am not guilty of any of these so what I am guilty of that I have to suffer so hard and who is responsible for the hapless condition of me and my family ?
The questions which every migrant labour is asking to its fellow citizens and the ruling government of our country .
Today we are talking about the Dethronement of Labours in our country, so what lead to the dethronement, it wasn’t the outcome of a simple thing. It was the outcome of a complex insecurities on the part of the labourers and insensitiveness on the part of government in handling the migrant crisis.
In India where more than 75% of the workforce earn their livelihood in the informal and unorganised sector. On 24th March 2020 country’s first lockdown because of COVID-19 was implemented with just four hours of prior notice by the government.
The migrant workers weren’t provided with any opportunity and time to understand the gravity of the situation. As soon as they realised how grave the situation is the entire nation was already at a standstill, and their biggest fear started haunting them. Not the fear of dying because of the virus but the fear of dying out of hunger since they were rendered jobless after the announcement of lockdown and were left with very little or no income because the factories in which they worked for a living weren’t operating anymore due to the nationwide lockdown and their employers weren’t ready to give their salaries.
They were neither informed about the processing of lockdown nor about the process after lockdown. With no other alternative left they started heading back to their native places on their own because the metropolitan cities in which they were working seemed hard for survival without work. They were forced to cover the unbelievable distance to their way back home on foot, cycles, trucks loaded with goods and what not.
Even the announcement of relief packages didn’t convinced them and their distress increased with the increasing lockdown restrictions. Several reports suggests that more than 90% of migrant workers did not received government rations in many states and were suffering from dire food shortage. And there is enough corroboration to prove the same. Many people died while walking towards their native towns on road due to hunger, dehydration and lack of timely medical care. 17 workers were crushed by a goods train in Aurangabad Railway Incident as they were sleeping on the railway tracks . 27 workers died in Auraiya road accident.
We don’t even know about the exact number of labours who lost their lives because of various reasons during this punitive lockdown. As these are the only cases which came into limelight and the fact is very cogent that they are just a part of the huge exact number because only a fraction of deaths is reported by the media.
On one hand where PM CARES FUND has received approximately Rs 10,000 Crore of donations and the main reason behind the introduction of which was to deal with any kind of crisis, produced by COVID-19 pandemic and provide succour to those affected by it, on the other hand after 40 days of lockdown when the government restarted the railways and agreed to run special trains for labourers they were asked to pay the rail fare to reach their respective states and even after paying for fares and not left with any money they were left to scramble for food and water. Instead of supporting the labourers with basic necessities and adequate facilities our government tried to hoodwink the Indian public on the issue of rail fares reveals the hypocrisy level of our government. The heart wrenching experiences shared by the migrant labours clearly show the hideous face of the Indian government which always promises moon to its citizens but fails to provide them even with a LED Bulb. Did we contributed to PM CARES Fund to see the despair of workforce that has built our cities.
The labourers who have reached and are still reaching their native places their problems have not ended with that instead it’s just the beginning of their problems.
India has the biggest workforce in the world and Indian cities produce over 70% of its GDP and informal sector makes about 65% of their workforce. The people who migrated to cities for work because of unavailability of work in their hometowns are now migrating back because of the similar scenarios in cities now. As of May, the unemployment rate in rural India was at 24.3% up from around 16% in April. According to ILO, the pandemic could push 400 Million informal workers in India into deep penury.
In the wake of migrant crisis our state governments are leaving no stone unturned to exploit the labourers in name of boosting the economy and are utilising the opportunity to its full extent . Amid the pandemic many states including U.P, M.P, Gujrat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka and a few more are busy in diluting and suspending the Labour Laws for a long period of time. U.P made the boldest move by increasing the working hours from 8 to 12 which it later withdrew following a notice from Allahabad High Court. Rajasthan followed the move. By tweaking the Labour Laws the government isn’t ameliorating the condition of the labours instead it’s just creating an exploitative environment for the labours which will give more authority to the employers and exploitation of labour will take place on a larger scale and it will be no wrong to say that all this is being done for the benefit of employers not employees. Not only this these labour reforms introduced by many states are violating the constitution because relaxation of labour laws is only permitted during public emergency like internal or external threat to India’s safety and a pandemic is definitely not a public emergency.
The present pathetic condition of the labours would have been avoided if the executive’s attitude was not so callous in handling the crisis. The government is making them believe that they were living on the mercy of the god and the government and when now both of them aren’t interested in showing any mercy they don’t have any other option left except suffering.
Written by Taniya Yadav, a law student from Allahabad.