Representational image.

The danger of COVID 19 is looming large. One after another countries announced lockdown all over the globe to stop the spread of this deadly virus. The WHO, though is saying that mere lockdown is not enough to fight the pandemic.

What is needed is a mass scale testing of people. May be we need both. There is no doubt that managing the COVID 19 has become the top priority of the counties at the moment. Like other nations, India has also declared a 21-day lockdown.

Following the lockdown, it was pointed out by many that the poorest of the poor would be worst affected by it. It was also feared that lockdown would affect our economy. Particularly its impact in the informal sector of the economy would be severe which account for the 90% of the jobs.

It was suggested that government should come out with a special economic package for the poor people so that they could withstand the fallout of the lockdown. But none imagined the unfolding of a human tragedy the sudden lockdown would cause to the poorest of the poor, specially the migrant workers in the country.

Who are these migrant workers? BBC has put it so nicely in one of its latest stories: “These informal workers are the backbone of the big city economy, constructing houses, cooking food, serving in eateries, delivering takeaways, cutting hair in salons, making automobiles, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers, among other things. Escaping poverty in their villages, most of the estimated 100 million of them live in squalid housing in congested urban ghettos and aspire for upward mobility.”

After the lockdown, these people found that everything came to a standstill and they had no income, no food and nothing. Their survival was at stake. More than the fear of COVID 19, they feared that they would die now out of hunger.

The only option left for them was to return home. Back home at least they would be among their own people, family and friends. But how would they go home when all means of transportation were withdrawn and everything was under the lockdown? What could they do now except walking home? So millions of them were on the roads on their feet in their homeward journey.

When government and all other national and international agencies were advising people to maintain social distance, suddenly roads in Delhi and many other metropolises were crowded with the swarms of walking people. They were fanning out towards the boarders to go home. What an irony and paradox? The most unfortunate thing is already more than 20 such people have died while walking home.

The pertinent question here is- did the government think about the enormity of the problem before declaring the lockdown? Why couldn’t they guess it? Why there were no preparations? Or is it that the top decision makers in our county don’t know the ground realities in India? But the same government had sent flights to ferry stranded people in foreign countries?

When commercial airlines stopped flying, the super rich in India brought their students and family members from abroad by luxury charted jets. And here millions of migrant workers inside the country had no means of transportation to return home! The latest news is even more horrifying.

The Central government has ordered sealing of all interstate boarders. Stadiums and other such facilities are being converted to temporary prisons and migrant workers are being imprisoned there for quarantine. It has also been reported that these workers are also being sprayed with disinfectant to sanitize them.

First, government didn’t have any plan for them and now they are being treated like this! Why is this apathy for the poor and marginalized people in this country?  Aren’t they from India? Don’t they belong here?

Apart from the exodus of the migrant workers, there is another worrisome thing. It is important that lockdown should be strictly observed by the people. It should be enforced so because it is for the good and safety of the people. But if out of some emergencies or even out of ignorance some people venture out, they should not be treated as dreaded criminals and beaten mercilessly by the police. But police is doing just that.

We have seen shocking police atrocities and highhandedness in many places in the country. This is uncalled for and reprehensible. This is no civilized way of treating our citizens.

Another thing, when such an extraordinary situation arises in a country how should we approach it? Should we not approach it as a nation unitedly? Have we seen any such attempt at the national level or at the state level of involving the leaders of the opposition political parties, civil society members and other stakeholders of the society, at least for seeking their guidance and advice in tackling the crisis.

No, we haven’t seen any such initiative yet. Have we seen and heard the prime minister engaging himself in some kind of consultation with the chief ministers of different states? Doesn’t the crisis warrant that? Again, what have we seen in Assam? We haven’t seen any all party meeting on COVID 19. In a democracy, dealing with a crisis of such dimension should be through a process of consensus. This should be above power politics and partisan motives.

Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com