A nationwide lockdown in India over the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on thousands of migrant workers. Indian health workers have caused outrage recently by spraying a group of migrants with a disinfectant solution.
A video went going viral on the internet, which shows a group of migrant workers sitting on a street in Bareilly (a district in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh) as Indian health officials in protective suits used hosepipes to douse them in disinfectant. It also prompted anger on social media.
The migrants were among millions who have returned to their home villages amid a nationwide, three-week lockdown. The move was supposed to stop the spread of coronavirus as there are fears the returnees may spread the virus further.
The video was initially shared by the Times of India journalist Kanwardeep Singh, who highlighted the grave incident. However, in a full video seen by the BBC, the officials shout orders over a megaphone asking the workers to close their eyes and mouths.
An official can be heard ordering the group to “close the eyes of your children and close your eyes too”, said the BBC.
Who r u trying to kill, Corona or humans? Migrant labourers and their families were forced to take bath in chemical solution upon their entry in Bareilly. @Uppolice@bareillytraffic @Benarasiyaa @shaileshNBT pic.twitter.com/JVGSvGqONm
— Kanwardeep singh (@KanwardeepsTOI) March 30, 2020
However, Bareilly’s district magistrate said the video matter being investigated. the official said on Twitter that the team of the Bareilly Municipal Corporation and fire department officials were asked to sanitize buses but they also sprayed the workers.
The video caused widespread criticism on social media. Several Indian opposition leaders attacked the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for its cruel and inhuman treatment of the poor.
What on earth is this? Am sure this isn't done at the airports, where the Coronavirus came in, or at quarantine centres…. https://t.co/iSQ08FluWc
— Suhasini Haidar (@suhasinih) March 30, 2020
Migrants in India during coronavirus crisis
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 21-day nationwide lockdown intended to help stop coronavirus spreading among the country’s 1.3 billion people. India recorded 1,024 cases and 27 deaths so far. But, the labor class in the country also suffered due to sudden lockdown.
“Social distancing is not just for the sick, but for each and every person, including you and even your family,” Modi said in a nationwide address last week.
That might work for India’s middle and upper classes, who can hunker down in their houses, eat from their well-stocked pantries and even work from home using modern technology. But the chaos unfolding across India in recent days spelled out for the 74 million people who live in the country’s slums. Thousands of migrant workers are trying to flee the slums for their rural homes sparking fears they will import the virus to the countryside.
Slum-dwellers cannot isolate
Slum-dwellers cannot isolate, they need to work. Daily wage migrant workers generally live hand-to-mouth, earning between 138-449 Indian rupees per day, according to the International Labor Organization.
“They belong to the unorganized sector, they don’t get paid the day they don’t go to work,” says economist Arun Kumar. “Supply chains have shut down. Employment is lost. They have no money to purchase essentials. And unlike the rich, they cannot afford to stock up. They buy on a daily basis but now the shelves are empty,” he added.
The lockdown in India due to COVID-19 came in the middle of the harvest time of the rabi crop season. News reports pointed out that Indian Punjab, Haryana, and Telangana were amongst the worst-hit by the flight of migrant laborers in the times of rabi harvest. These states heavily depend on the migrant labor force for harvesting, loading, and unloading of their produce for transportation.
India’s supply chain too depends immensely on the migrant laborers. This stands disrupted due to coronavirus lockdown. The laborers too are in a precarious situation due to loss of job and hence earning.
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