In order to fight the corona virus, government announced a nationwide, 21 days lockdown at a 4 hours notice which sparked tension, confusion and fear among the masses. Countless workers were stranded on roads bereft of food or shelter. The capital of the nation Delhi that has a high number of migrants and daily wage laborers at any given time was caught in a battle of life and death. They could neither stay put nor walk to their homes thousands of miles away. Nevertheless, the fear of going hungry sparked an exodus by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and their families, many on foot, back to their villages where some perished along the way.
Apart from the plight of migrant workers, the economy was badly hit by the unplanned lockdown which was already suffering because of disastrous policies of the government. The International Labour Organization (ILO) said this week that 400 million Indians working in the informal economy risk falling deeper into poverty during the crisis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has announced direct cash transfers and food subsidies to help some 800 million people. But there are reports that a huge number of people have not been reached through these measures.
Government is insisting that payments were being made, saying that cash transfers to bank accounts opened by the poor under a national scheme would be completed this week but India’s coronavirus outbreak, and the ongoing 21-day lockdown to contain it, has shone a spotlight on the hard life of its seasonal migrants.
According to a rapid assessment survey by Jan Sahas, a civil society organisation that focuses on human rights of socially excluded communities as many as 92.5% of labourers have already lost one to three weeks of work, this loss of income is proving to be catastrophic on several fronts.
Over 80% of the country’s migrant and daily wage population fears it will run out of food before the end of the lockdown, on April 14. Nearly as many also worry that they will not be able to find work once the lockdown ends.
Hundreds of thousands of desperate daily-wage earners have been trying to flee the cities for their communities in rural areas after losing their livelihoods to the lockdown. At least 22 migrant workers and their kin have died trying to return home, often from sheer exhaustion. Traveling on foot, balancing children in their arms and their meager possessions on their heads, their exodus has evoked comparisons with the mass migrations last seen in 1947, when people fled sectarian riots after the Partition of British India.
Now, the government is contemplating whether to open the lockdown on 14th of April or not which would depend on the number of cases rising in India. The testing per million is still very low in India which is making it difficult to gauge the actual situation but in any case, government will need to focus on reviving the economy which suffered a blow from the unplanned lockdown.