Documenting the story of India’s migrant distress | Analysis
Ever since the lockdown began, stories of migrant workers have haunted the country. These stories of suffering and hardship have become the face of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in India’s megacities. There is an eerie similarity to many of them, highlighting an unequal society that has caused a humanitarian crisis to erupt during an unprecedented health crisis. arlier in the lockdown, one of us noticed two children who lived on the construction site next door. They said nothing and asked for nothing, but there was hunger and curiosity in their eyes. They were the children of Ranju, a migrant worker from Bihar, who worked at the construction site. The pandemic had brought work to a standstill for her and 15 other Bihari workers — no wages, little food, and no cooking gas. An economic package has since been laid out. Yet, labour distress continues. Why did the migrant workers make the punishing journey from big cities back to the nondescript towns and villages of largely Bihar, and in Uttar Pradesh (UP)? The following narratives from Poorvanchal (eastern UP and Bihar) prove the need for a nuanced understanding of the precarity and anxieties of the migrant workforce and the need for State policies that take this into account. The two states account for 37% of the country’s inter-state migrants whose lives and livelihoods are now uncertain, at least for the near future. We spoke to dozens of workers and community leaders to understand their anxieties and experiences and policymakers to understand their responses.