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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 16 New Delhi, April 4, 2020

Coronavirus and Migrant Workers

Saturday 4 April 2020, by Arup Kumar Sen

Migrant footloose labour plays a dominant role in the accumulation of capital under neo-liberal capitalism on a world scale. India is no exception on this score.

In spite of its dominant role in the capitalist mode of production in contemporary India, the mode of survival and plight of migrant workers rarely gets attention in the mainstream media. Very recently, Delhi witnessed mass exodus of migrant workers to their far-flung home towns and villages as a result of loss of livelihoods after the imposition of countrywide lockdown, declared by the Centre to address the coronavirus- induced health crisis. The crisis has brought the invisible migrant workers under media coverage.
Pronab Sen, the present chairman of the Standing Committee on Economic Statistics, has addressed the post-lockdown plight of migrant workers. In his interview with Karan Thapar, he observed that daily-wage workers are walking back to their villages in thousands though the temperature is rising and there is no food or shelter available during the journey, which will take days. Sen clarified that such footloose people have “lost trust in the system”, and predicted- with tens of millions of people living in cities without jobs, food and very little or no savings, and with despair and despondency setting in, “food riots are a very real possibility”. (See The Wire, March 27, 2020)

The health crisis arising out of the spread of the coronavirus cannot be successfully addressed without addressing the economic vulnerabilities of the vast number of footloose people in India, from the perspective of “ethics of care”. The metaphor of war is being widely used to ‘fight’ the coronavirus-related health crisis. But, any coercive approach to the novel health crisis will not only be futile, but will give birth to a new kind of State violence against footloose people.

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