The Migrants Saga: Grit In The Face Of Utter Betrayal

by Brigadier (Dr) Vinod Dutta 1 month ago Views 770
covid19
The COVID-19 Pandemic has exposed the breaking of the backbone of India’s industrial prowess. That of its 114 million-strong, ductile and undemanding workforce which was left in lurch.

The workplaces were shut or denied access to and most contractors and business links vanished leaving workers and their families like refugees. This was the eighth biggest exodus in India. Some we can recall easily are that of the 1947 Partition which displaced nearly 15 million people, the exodus during the 1971 during Indo-Pak War and Kashmiri Pundits leaving the valley in 1990.

Also Read: India's Growth Rate Lowest Since 2009, 4.2% in 2019-20

The workers contribute to the fundamental factors of economic growth in an unsung manner. The unorganised workforce which sustains the big cities’ economic sustenance in terms of construction labour, industrial workforce, domestic help and roadside tradesmen, left the urban environs desolate, disappointed and dejected.

The administration could not fathom the importance, need and inclusiveness of this potent force to reboot the economy which was hit and hammered by the lockdown. The migrant workers were turned into refugees overnight. Patience and money ran out and with hungry crying kids and the fear of the virus, life became unbearable. They waited for the assurances of leaders, mentors and ‘maliks’ to provide hope, health and home, but that was not to be.

The mind gave marching orders to the feet to head for villages where brotherhood, bonhomie and bread was there not only for humans but for the animals too. The exodus began and the most appreciable thing was their grit, determination and love for environment which may not be opulent but optimistic in thinking and living.

The sudden lockdown within a couple of hours left the workers in surprise and they were blissfully ignorant about the options and consequences. The role of small business owners was understandable because of less resilience in terms of sustainability, but the bigger business houses were expected to rise to the occasion to support the very foundation of the industrial empire.

The requirement of workers was ‘Roti, Makan, Rozgar and Swabhiman’. The various elite and the so called confederations of industries, associations and guilds, could not muster courage, conviction and conscience to help the deprived and desolate people on whom they celebrate the success of ‘moolah muscularity’. Here lies the difference between an industrialist and businessmen. Ratan Tata or for that matter the Tatas are true industrialists who take their team along, look after them during a crisis. The workforce is as huge as 450,000 and 96 companies are being run by charitable trusts. The other big names in industrial circles are businessmen whose sole aim is to churn profits and use the workforce as cannon fodder. The difference between industrialists and businessmen is that industrialists create wealth and businessmen create profits.

The problem of housing and dwelling could have been addressed by using vacant schools and educational institutes, duly following social distancing norms, as they have enough space to accommodate and give workers shelter and security. The same workforce under mentorship could have been used to manufacture items like masks, cleaning the environment, undertaking the over-delayed projects, thereby creating jobs, keeping them meaningfully employed and earning livelihood with ‘Swabhiman’.

This problem was global and various countries addressed it in a more mature and meticulous way. In UK, our own Indian origin young Turk, Rishi Sunak, announced a wage protection package, Brazil launched an emergency salary programme and Japan adopted a cash delivery model. The Indian Government’s Jan Dhan Yojna is an appreciable step in that direction but the remittance was a pittance and the same could have been increased by reducing the distribution chains and links, which take their own pound of flesh.

Finally , the anatomy of an industrial empire has three type of bones: the jaw bones , which talk and do sweet little, the knuckle bones , who knock at all doors to find out what’s brewing and do nothing and lastly, the backbones (Workers) who get down to work and make all the difference in the industrial yield curve.

The nation should look after this asset because the remigration will be an uphill task to get the men to the machines. The Honourable Supreme Court through a three judge Bench has confirmed inadequacies and lapses on the part of the government in dealing with this crisis.

The same should be implemented in letter and spirit without any party prejudices. We must salute the worker warriors like Jyoti, who cycled 1,200 km to lug her ailing father from Delhi to Darbhanga. Or Gayoor Ahmed, who tricycled his way to home and Yakub, who refused to abandon ailing friend Amrit Kumar.

(15-year-old Jyoti Kumari who cycled 1200 km with her ailing father from Gurugram to Bihar.Image- screenshot BBCNews/Hindi)

All is still not lost. The federal governments along with the Centre must revisit, restructure, redesign and revamp the migration of workers in order to restore industry and industrial workers.

(Brigadier Vinod Dutta is former, Secretary, DCMG (Disaster Management). He has almost three decades of experience in disaster management. He is presently a senior advisor & Member of Centre Research and Consultancy Committee at Centre for Disaster Management Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He is also Senior Consultant at the National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi).

- The opinions expressed are of the author's alone   

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