The forgotten faces of the lockdowns, the impoverished migrant worker walked thousands of miles to 'try' to get back to their village; many did not make it

by Paul Alexander

The cafe latte, lap top class, pinky raised coffee cup class did not think of them; nor poor African American children with only one meal a day in US, the free school lunch, so no school they starved.

We did not care about Suzie in school with one meal a day…poor in the US but humble and proud and ‘making it’, studying her way out of poverty…the African American and minority child…’where the streets have no name’…that song meant them…invisible…but we did not care…we could walk our dogs now at will and catch up on some reading...we could order uber and work remote and now remain there…

We never gave a thought to the migrant worker in Asia and Africa…’the most vulnerable and worst hit by the Covid-19 Pandemic Lockdown are the migrant workers. This consists of construction workers, painters, delivery boys, cooks, cleaners and factory workers etc. These workers faced every kind of hardships from walking on foot hundreds of thousands of kilometres with minimal availability of food and water and being given inhuman treatment like beating with lathis to sprayed with disinfectant. It is roughly estimated that 79% of India’s migrants work for daily wages in factories or on construction sites. The Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) survey found that 50% of workers had rations left for less than one day. Seventy two percent of the people surveyed said that their rations would finish in two days. Ninety six percent had not received rations from the government and 70% had not received any cooked food. Around 98% had not received any cash relief from the government.

So with the looming fear of hunger, men, women and children were forced to begin arduous journeys back to their villages - cycling or hitching rides on tuk-tuks, lorries, water tankers and milk vans. For many, walking was the only option. Some travelled for a few hundred kilometres, while others covered more than a thousand to go home.

They weren't always alone - some had young children and others had pregnant wives, and the life they had built for themselves packed into their ragtag bags.

Many never made it. A vast number, never got home. They died walking.

“Tens of Thousands of workers decided to use whatever means they have at their disposal to reunite with their families at home. Some use cycles to cover the distance and majority had no option but to walk and suffer. The presence of the struggling instinct in the workers encourage them to use the hardest method to arrive home. The closure of all means of transport by the govt did not hamper the courage of workers. In some circles of the society particularly from those circles who backed this unplanned nationwide lockdown criticized the movement of the migrant workers. Their defiance was seen as a threat to the nation. Police was used against them and they were lathi charged and beaten at many places. The miseries does not end here. It is rather a beginning of the protracted period of misery. They faced unnatural deaths.”