Art n Life

CORONA MUSINGS : Crumbling cookie of migrants

Prof Harbans Singh | May 27, 2020 03:41 PM

The syndrome of migration, portrayed with such brutal realism by Bimal Roy in his path-breaking movie Do Bigha Zameen in 1953, has turned full circle. The unskilled migrant workers from UP, Bihar, Jharkhand etc who had thronged the industrial cities of the country are clamouring to go back! Initially barred: no trains, no buses for them; and, when they desperately turned to the endless asphalt roads in these rising temperatures to trudge back hundreds of miles, they were thwarted by the police. Some took to the train tracks, believing no train was moving. But the goods trains were, and a number of them who innocently slept on the track were mowed down. The cookie of migration has finally crumbled!

The government surely does not have them on its priority list unless it is voting time. It has its own loyal constituency which also has a vocal voice by way of the print and the electronic media. This class also dons the mantle of social media warriors which can be unleashed on the less resourceful opponents. Look how quick the State governments have been in rescuing students of those States that were stuck in Kota. In Punjab since the staple diet of political parties is religion therefore a clamor was made to rescue Sikh pilgrims from Nanded Sahib in Maharashtra. The politics and haste have now created a very embarrassing situation and rival camps are busy passing the buck. Thank God these pilgrims were Sikh. The electronic media and the society would have been frothing with rage if they had been some kind of Tablighis.

But, back to the migrant story. The rich ones stuck abroad are about to be ferried by air soon while more than twelve lakh migrants of Punjab wait for the elusive trains. Since social distancing norms have to be followed each train will carry just over a thousand passengers. It may take months on end if not years and by the time the exercise is complete the time might arrive for them to head back like the residents of Muhammad Tughlaq’s Delhi who came back from Deccan. Beaten and whipped and hungry.

Now the question is: what next? The states where the migrants put their labor have abdicated the responsibility of taking care of them. They continue to live in abhorrent slums, the homes of diseases and depravity yet fueling the economy. The state remains indifferent and the society keeps blaming them for spreading Covid 19. At the first sign of threat to the economy, they were abandoned to the charities by the government. It was forgotten that to a large degree the comforts of the rich and the middle class and the profitability of the industries have been subsidized by their disease infested lifestyle.

(The writer is an accomplished academic based in Chandigarh)

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