Mainstream Weekly

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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 22, New Delhi, May 16, 2020

When People Know Govts Couldn’t Care Less ....... Who Can Stop People From Walking?

Sunday 17 May 2020

Is it a few hours, days or maybe a week into the harshest lockdown in the world? No, it is 50 days. The tide of workers which started walking home from day one, fully sure that it would not count for govts, fully sure that sure starvation and penury was guaranteed in the days ahead, has turned into a torrent and goes on and on. How is that? Considering that the highest Court was assured that Govt had provided food and shelter, considering that govts are considerably providing transport, why do the internal migrant workers of India still walk ? Why be upset if the highest Court expresses frustration at this recalcitrance? Would it tax human intelligence really, to realize that if you sleep on railway tracks, a train would crush you? What death wish is upon the migrant workers of India that they are making such a spectacle of themselves? That too while the Govts do so much for them ? And they are not even ’migrants’!- as their friends are asserting; how dare they be called ’migrants’in their own country, that too in those cities they build and run? They are co-owners, equal claimants, it is being asserted.

But they are uncaring of these assertions, these debates. They walk back to their natal homes. They know that for those who are ruling, for those who wield the power over the cities and wealth, they do not count. Unless of course, the wheels of the world are running, when they count to run the wheels. So they walked from day one and their number is multiplying, their flow unceasing and increasing. They are blindingly clear and no hollow assurance has distracted them. Sheer physical violence, chains of a colonial law and mass detention by the police may have forced the numbers to bide their chance for a while. They knew, with the clarity of the dispossessed, that when work is not on, how could their existence count with rulers? No Govt was going to actually arrange shelter or food for them. No one would run vehicles for just ’72 hours more’ so that they could go home. Nor will there be ’vande bharats’. They have no fantasies that cities in which they led roadside existences, were theirs. They know full well that in their lot, governance is the Police. So undoubting, they are walking back to homes, to hunger maybe, back to where they had started empty handed but with dreams of building a future, back empty handed towards natal land and ties. Not that they are welcome by natal govts or even by the locals too whose vision has been distorted by the system to see ones own as vectors. Yet they walk.The villages they walk pass sometimes give food and water. Trees shade them in the day, they walk by night.

Yes, they slept to their death, exhausted, on railway tracks of trains that did not run for them. They are dying in road accidents, sitting to eat food, exhausted, dehydrated and unheeding the exempted traffic speeding by. They have blisters on their feet, their footwear is broken, the children are sound asleep on the shoulders of fathers, pregnant women give birth on the roadside and walk carrying the newborns, old and sick are borne along on the shoulders of worn out youth.

They are walking away from trains and buses that need online tickets and apps on nonexistent phones. They are walking away from tokenism- a token no of trains, of buses, of shelters, token distribution of rations. If transport is actually being arranged, don’t governments know the numbers? If food was being given to all would it need 50 days to announce rations without cards?

Not relevant are assertions that they need not consider themselves not of the system.Not enough is anger at the reality of India.Not needed is debate about what small part of the working class they represent. They are the mirror and are showing us the stark realities of our society. There is little point agonizing why the wings of the system are blind and deaf and seem paralysed. This is the Real, stark and without frills.Covid has forced- covers are off. All wings of the system are revealing their face. One can stand in the middle, be surprised, shocked, empathize, criticize, deny, re-arrange. Or move to change Reality.

Aparna *

dated 15th May 2020

[Dr Aparna is senior leader (CPI(ML), New Democracy)]

Notice: A national lockdown underway in India due to the Corona Virus crisis. Our print edition is interrupted & only an online edition is appearing.