India witnessed the stream of migrant workers and their families on the roads – men carrying children, women, children carrying younger children and the elderly, poor deprived of their livelihoods walking to their villages some as far as 700 to 1400 km when the country underwent COVID lockdown in March 2020. The lockdown also meant risking the lives of large number of chronically ill or those under treatment or waiting hospitalization.
According to WHO Report (2015) nearly 5.8 million people in India die every year of non-communicable diseases. After the lockdown a large number of these patients could have been severely affected. In 2018 2.15 million new tuberculosis cases were diagnosed in India. The plight of these patients a large number of whom would be on treatment of DOTS centers and or at hospital OPD that were shut down. There is no way to know the status of these patients in the post lockdown period as many would have discontinued their medication due to various reasons. People’s health is the responsibility of the state but at no stage should it resort to methods that hurt the marginalized.
The economic and social consequences of the lockdown have been severe. A large proportion of the self employed, casual workers or daily wagers and informal workers who constitute 90% of the workforce have lost their livelihoods. Demand has dropped sharply as employment has contracted. Supply has been reduced by the massive reduction in the output.
For 75% of rural poor households and 50% of urban households food security is at massive risk despite state and central government extending ration subsidies. For micro- small – medium enterprises their survival is jeopardized as they have been shut for long duration of time. Amid hunger, monetary crisis and uncertainty migrant workers were treated as outsiders why many set off on foot to their homes. With widespread panic, migrants became easy targets on social media and were labeled corona virus carriers. In many places the enforcement of lockdown through the use of police force as well as several infection control measures such as stamping those identified for isolation made things worse for them.
The deep social fissures festering within the society are more pronounced. The COVID pandemic has over burdened India’s inadequate healthcare system and stripped the veil off everyday practices of caste and class discrimination. As per Union Skill Development Ministry, More than 67 lakh migrants returned to 116 districts in 6 states from the urban centres. Out of these about 44 lakhs two- third returned to 53 districts. In Bihar 23.6 lakh returned to 32 districts followed by UP with 17.48 lakh to 31 districts. The total number of returning migrants is significant since the 2011 census had recorded 2.19 crore people as new inter state migrants across a decade since 2001.
Mohd Bilal Khan is a student pursuing HMTT from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Yusuf Aziz