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Locked Down, Trapped and Abandoned Migrant Workers in Pune City

A survey of workers in Pune city who were waiting to go back home after the national lockdown was first announced shows their plight and living conditions. Its findings provide valuable insights on what migrant workers need and what the policy decisions regarding them should consider.

For nine weeks after the national lockdown began in end March, tens of thousands of workers began tru­dging across the country’s highways with meagre belongings on foot, bicycles, in auto rickshaws, lorries and buses in a sort of dogged civil disobedience of the lockdown. Police lathis did not stop them, neither did the shortage of food and water, the cruel Indian summer, acci­dents, or even deaths (over 600 in conservative estimates) on the way. Nor did the forced quarantine without food upon arrival at their destination or the pesticide sprayed on them stop those who followed in an endless stream. It was no coincidence that the majority of the returnees were heading into the poorest states. The poor in India have been footloose labour for decades. (Breman 1996). There are an estimated 140 million migrant workers who move seasonally and cyclically for work. They represent the lowest economic and social strata of our society (Keshri and Bhagat 2012). They were featured on television screens, in newspaper reports and in some outstanding field reports and videos, which were uploaded on YouTube starting soon after the lockdown (MOJO Story 2020).

Since then, the question of why they defied the Prime Minister, the police and every conceivable obstacle has been asked often and answered by some on camera and in some surveys (SWAN 2020):1 no wages, no food, no savings, no money for rent, no faith that the administration could reach them, and great apprehension of disease and death in a harsh, alien city. Those who left as soon as possible were often the most vulnerable (but not ­always). Those who waited till the trains began were perhaps the least (but not always).

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Updated On : 16th Jul, 2020

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