From the Viewsroom

Untouchables of another kind

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on April 03, 2020

Exodus of migrant workers from cities has given ‘social distancing’ a perverse twist

Intellectuals, media pundits and social media celebrities leaning towards the Right were quick to term the mass exodus of migrant workers fleeing India’s urban centres — following the 21-day lockdown to check the spread of the deadly Covid-19 — as collateral damage. Many even blamed the urban poor for breaching the social distancing protocol mandated by the Centre and becoming potential carriers of the disease.

It has become pretty clear that the Centre has acted with undue haste and callousness in implementing the lockdown, causing ‘collateral damage’ of huge proportions. Amidst this calamitous mass-movement of people, even reminiscent of the Partition, it is appalling to see a section of the society spewing hatred towards the hapless multitudes. It is just that they happen to be on the wrong side of a social process skewed towards the interests of the country’s pampered middle class and their overblown sense of security.

Indeed, for the policy mandarins, the more than 14 crore migrant workers (Census 2011 estimate) populating India’s urban centres are a black hole. They subsist as cheap labour, only to be physically and psychologically banished from time to time. As a result, most migrant workers do not enjoy any social security cover. The NGO sector ignores them. Apart from a few States such as Kerala, where migrant workers enjoy education and access to healthcare, apathy is the norm.

The current reverse exodus of migrants reflects a grim social reality — that the India of ‘haves’ has successfully managed to socially distance itself from the ‘have-nots’. This paints an ugly, dark portrait of a country that is getting ready to become a global economic superpower. India can ill-afford to be Darwinian in its approach to a social crisis. It should be generous towards migrants and workers in the informal economy, and stop alienating them further. Let’s not make them the new untouchables. That will be a more malicious virus than the corona.

The writer is Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

Published on April 03, 2020

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