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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 40, New Delhi, September 19, 2020

The Stranded Migrants: Plights, Predicaments and Paybacks | Nupur Pattanaik

Friday 18 September 2020


Deprivation, Unemployment, poverty migrants across the world are stranded in different places after the evacuation and unlock measures with strict protocols we come across that there are also several migrants who have not reached their destination due to insecurity of jobs and utter fear of poverty and loss of livelihood due to the pandemic. The lockdown to accommodate the proliferation of COVID-19 has led to an astounding humanitarian catastrophe which the state has grappled to manoeuvre. As stranded labourers and endangered families run out of sustenance, currency and restraint, people -led enterprises, flowing out of living rooms and residence halls, delineating out the underprivileged by way of social media stepped in this wide breaking.

The lockdown flickered universal migration, the subject of migrant workers was one of the most strenuous happening of the entire pandemic lockdown span. On the face of a scarcity of livelihood and habitancy, thousands of them employed to journey on foot to reach their respective domiciles. Some voyaged for more than 800 km. The central government has taken a great initiative and started arranging for special trains – Shramik Special – for carrying the stranded migrants to their native places, especially in the rural areas. As the migrants started reaching home they became fertile carrier of the virus and in no time the urban character of COVID seem to become rural. According to the latest census, India has 33.32 million persons who have migrated to urban areas for work or business, and out of that, more than 19.36 million have rural origins the pandemic induced lockdown has marooned the migrants from far and wide; it has manifested a feeling of suffering, hope & despair which has reflected a syndrome of humanitarian crisis. From the very onset of lockdown witnessing millions of migrants across the borders stuck at different places till unlock 4.0 we come across various issues of migrants confined to the roads which is their new home in the new normal. The incongruence of the impact has been disproportionately vicious affecting the expat to a substantial proportion notwithstanding gender, faith and other bracketed labellings.The locking of migrants in the road has been the new standard and the order of the pandemic.

Circumstances and Conditionalities

The relentless cycle of suffering migrant labourer’s women, children and most specifically the elderly migrants, the perception of the “migrant” in the ongoing capitalist hour and the sphere of migrants in it are traversed. The fount to terminus streamlet of the drudgery of migrant confinement is reflected and it is then contended that reverse migration will conceivably accompany in the greatest crisis in the countryside topography of India, for which we are not yet devised and developed. Battered by isolation and confinement, locked and stranded migrant labourers were constrained and conditioned assorted with disparate circumstances and happenings. Confinement measures have left them unemployed and in acute distress. The report by Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN 2020) mirrored that migrant workers were without basic amenities, tedious and costly journey ending with quarantine, the condition of migrant labourers who suffered multiple hardships not only agonizing hunger, voyaged hundreds of distance shoeless or in bicycles during the lockdown but those who miserably lost their lives in their endeavour to reach home. The mental health and well-being are challenged as they are left with lack of a better social well-being.

Endangered and Extinct

The flow of workers is starting to reverse, as jobless returnees run out of savings
The vulnerabilities and terrorization of migrants since the inception of lockdown has made them vulnerable and victims of crime and violence. Covid-19 being a threat multiplier has deepened exclusion and exploitation, simmering social unrest .the crisis amplified plight has resulted in extreme challenges which has resulted in their death. The brutal sufferings from exploitation of children, women, incidences of assaults, violence are phenomenal. The global pandemic has resulted in stigmatisation of migrant workers around the world. A person from Laxmipur Village in Koraput District Odisha voiced that their family member working as labourers are at Vishakapatnam and still has not reached their respective places since unlocking of the country. So there are many labourers who are stranded at different places and not reached their destination and are also in danger and chances of facing disease and death.

Reformation and Rehabilitation

The retaliation to the catastrophe itself became a crisis and wreaked havoc, especially for the economically endangered and marginalised population. It has affected the patterns of migration and the mobility dynamics with special reference to women, elderly migrants and migrant children. To ameliorate and improve their conditions and adhering to the norms of social distancing, hygiene and sanitation there should be adequate rehab mechanisms to cater the needs of the migrant labourers, there should be some special measures to rehab and evacuate who are left at different places with adequate rehab measures and awareness and sensitisation measures. The role of civil society and ngo organisations too has been vital and active in this. The pandemic has given rise to several questions and perspectives like could hunger kill more people than coronavirus? These informal workers are the backbone of the big city economy, constructing houses, cooking food, serving in eateries, delivering takeaways, cutting hair in salons, making automobiles, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers, among other things, Most of the estimated 100 million of them live in squalid conditions, India’s pandemic lockdown turns into a human tragedy, the disaster preparedness, unprecedented crisis and the responses, the hidden inadequacies, subsequent plans and policies and preparedness. The framework and boundary of malady surveillance and the pointer organization to harmonize it has remained bogged down in dissension and ambivalence throughout the pandemic. The provision of essential supplies and services was not ensured from the beginning and suffered from inadequacy later as well, which resulted in the massive exodus of migrant workers from cities to their hometowns and villages. There is a need of the time to rethink on better mechanisms and standpoints on mental health issues of migrant labourers which is some way or other way ignored. There are several stances of migrant labour issues which should be taken into consideration for their social well-being and welfare.



Dr.Nupur Pattanaik, Teaching Sociology, Department of Sociology, Central University of Odisha

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