The coronavirus pandemic has left migrant workers in different corners of the country in a state of complete helplessness and economic hardship. With their sources of livelihood gone and meagre savings already exhausted, with no food, water or social security- these migrant workers are one of the worst victims of the pandemic.
Thousands of Indian migrant workers go to urban locations to work in the informal sector every year in the hope of securing a livelihood and a better prospect compared to the village but often, this decision costs them their life.
Such is perhaps the case with thousands of migrants who have tried to travel back to their native villages amidst the lockdown in the absence of a source of livelihood or enough savings to sustain them in the cities. Over the past couple of weeks, the media has been flooded with images and stories of thousands of migrant workers trying to pursue the journey back home from urban centres.
Faced with the most pressing finical stress associated with the lockdown measures, many of these workers decided to traverse across hundreds of kilometres in a bid to reach back home.It is interesting to note here that, while the coronavirus as a health pandemic is surely a threat to their well-being but what has emerged as a bigger threat is the fact that they are undertaking arduous journeys for hundreds of kilometres without food or rest and may often be traveling from urban ‘hot spot’ COVID-19 clusters. While the government has established many food and night shelters, but these measures have been woefully insufficient.
It is in this context that the story of Jamlo Makdam becomes significant in reminding us of the insufficiency of measures taken by the government and the failure of the nation-state to ensure its migrant class a life of dignity in these hard moments.
Jamlo Makdam was a 12 year old girl from Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district and she died of exhaustion and dehydration after completing the arduous walk of over 150 kilometres from Telangana to her hometown. She had gone to Telangana with several women from her neighbourhood to work in chilli farms. The lockdown imposed severe restrictions on transportation and like many migrant workers in different parts of the country, this group of women decided to walk back home. Jamlo died three days after the group began walking near Bhandarpal village, Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. What is extremely heartbreaking is the fact that little Jamlo died just 50 kilometres away from her home. Doctors feel that she must have died because of electrolyte imbalance, exhaustion and dehydration. The government has announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh for her kith and kin.
Jamlo was the only child of her parents. The extreme poverty of her parents had compelled the minor to become a daily wage earner in Telangana and the COVID-19 lockdown killed her brutally.
The state of India’s migrant workers amid the lockdown has been highlighted several times and one cannot but be heartbroken and disturbed by this disturbing truth. Millions of migrants in India have been taking long and arduous journeys on foot due to the loss of jobs and the lack of safe shelter or money to sustain them through these hard times. How long will it take before we have a firm policy to sustain the migrant class in these hard times? How many more Jamlo’s will have to die before we take cognisance of the seriousness of the matter?