quarantined in the comfort of our homes, a great many poor laborers in India were starving, being harassed and walking back 600 to 800 miles to their mud houses in the state of Bihar from Delhi and Mumbai, the political and financial capitals of India respectively. This is a human tragedy still happening in India.
While growing up in the state of Bihar in India, I witnessed those folks called ‘mazdoors,’ meaning laborers, living under dire poverty and slavery. They worked for ‘zamindars,’ (landlords) who made them sweat in their paddy-fields along with mazdoors’ wives and children for 12 to 13 hours a day in return for two meals a day consisting of low-quality rice (inconsumable for us), lentil, onion and salt. Many a time I witnessed them getting corporal punishment by the entire zamindar clan for suspected stealing of rice crops.
The government of Bihar mired in corruption and casteism, never created industries to employ them. Millions of those laborers left Bihar to work on per-diem wages in mega cities of India. Ironically, they are still called migrants in their own country. I’ll label them even worse. They are ‘disposables’ the way they are treated. Millions of them lost jobs, ‘jhuggi-jhopris’ (slum houses) and means to feed their families due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Modi administration totally neglected them. As a result, those poor masses started marching back to Bihar in despair.
They’ll still be starving there as there are no jobs back home. The government of Bihar has offered to give Rs.500 (7 US Dollars) to each returning so-called migrant in the name of relief. The plight of thousands of migrant workers walking back to their native places from major cities can be felt and seen on television channels by everyone. Earlier, they walked on highways but when police at some places started harassing them, they took to walking along railway tracks. Some were run over by running trains. The government failed to provide transportation for them. As I am writing this article, the Railways of India have started special trains to take them back home.
Many of the migrants walking hundreds of miles died of heat, exhaustion, and starvation. Many were road-kills. One of the leading newspapers in Kolkata wrote, “The story of a New India would be written in the blood of those starving.” Thousands of them are still on roads, walking hundreds of miles with children and their meager belongings.
The stories of the disenfranchised working people lost in the grip of the administration’s indifference and lockdown is nothing new today. Shocking visuals remind me of Hindi-language film “Do Bigha Zamin”1953 directed by Bimal Roy, based on Rabindranath Tagore‘s famous Bengali poem “Dui Bigha Jomi“. That was in 1953. Nothing has changed for those poor masses in India which claims to be an advanced nation and a leading world-economy now.
The post COVID-19 situation does not look all that promising for them. I have witnessed the world sympathize with the plights of Central American migrants (who are fed and sheltered decently), the Syrian refugees and the Rohingyas, but no one seems to care for these Bihari migrants.
Please write to your Senators and Congressmen/women to pay attention to their plight as they did for others. Kindly send a donation to ‘COvID-19 Migrant workers Relief Fund’ by clicking here: https://www.responsenet.org/donations-for-covid-19-migrant-workers-relief-fund/. Please don’t tell me that this happens in other countries also. For now, let us do something for them.