June 25, 2020
June 25, 2020

COVID 19 Lockdown and Human Rights of the Migrant Laborers

The outbreak of global pandemic, COVID-19, is not unknown. It has led to a worldwide situation of hue and cry. Amidst the crisis, it has become crucial to note the situation of migrant laborers and their children. In order to control the spread of pandemic in the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to order a nationwide lockdown in order to limit and restrain the movement with an aim to contain and mitigate the Corona virus. However, this has proved to be massive setback for the migrant laborers with every extension of the phase of the lockdown. It becomes pertinent to note that for individuals belonging to middle class and upper class, this has not brought about such major problems rather it has been seen that these people were the ones creating problems for migrant laborers from the very beginning. The term Migrant labor refers to the casual and unskilled workers who move about systematically from one region to another offering their services on a temporary, usually seasonal, basis. Migrant labor in various forms is found in South Africa, the Middle East, Western Europe, North America, and India. In this situation, the human rights of the migrant labors are being completely ignored with a simple explanation that nothing can be done to ensure the same to the fullest.
The Plight of Migrants
Within a week of the announcement of lockdown, the first instance came into light wherein the situation raised in Delhi when thousands of migrants collected on the borders after being hit by the sudden announcing of lockdown. They demanded nothing but a way to go back to their homes. The fear, hunger, hopelessness, helplessness and uncertainty gave rise to this situation. The arrangements were not being made for their survival and they were forced by the conditions to walk back home, lugging their bags and dragging their children, they trudged along thousands of miles and it was been observed that they were ones who wisely affected by the lockdown. This was not the only instance; however, in every part of the country, these situations were being witnessed wherein these migrant laborers did not have security of anything. Even after government tried to make the appropriate arrangements for them, it was extremely difficult to cater to the entire populating of these migrants which is as high as 98,301,342 throughout the country, the reports show that the distress amongst the migrants so high that they have become extremely quarrelsome. On the other hand, they have been beaten up as well in many areas. The ration shops have been seen to be loaded with the migrants and they have been denied the basic requisites of the day as well. Recently, a heart wrenching act was done by a mother wherein, carrying two children, she takes a journey of 1700 kilometer on foot from Mumbai to Begusarai.
The Evident Irony
The irony in the entire situation is that the sufferers are the ones who were not at fault. This reflects the meaning that the disease has been introduced in the country by the elite class and the few individuals from the middle class, yet, the sufferers have become the ones who have been apparently suffering since ages. In addition to the same, not only they have lost their jobs but have found themselves trapped far away from home. The basic necessities are not being available to them and they have found themselves to be the most helpless during the crisis. The history has been evident enough to show that of the entire crisis, it is the people from the lower class only who turn out to be the worst sufferers. For years, rural India has been losing ground with respect to the towns and cities. In 2008, the rural-urban gap was noticed to be at 45 per cent in India in terms of average revenue versus 10 per cent for China and Indonesia. The data from the 75th round of NSSO for 2017-18 suggests that the rural-urban gap has actually widened during 2012-18. It is important to note that amidst the lockdown, it not only the urban dwellers who are at stake, but the agricultural sector has also been hit hard. Thus, the crisis of COVID-19 has revealed the very magnitude of the phenomenon of the migrant worker and has opened the eyes of the urban dwellers as well to the grim situation of agriculture sector in India.
The Concern of UN
While expressing the distress over the plight of millions of migrant laborers in India during the ongoing nationwide lockdown in order to contain the spread of the corona virus, UN human rights chief suggested that there is a need for “domestic solidarity and unity” in order to combat the upheaval of crisis during the epidemic. The high commissioner also encouraged and appreciated the government for its work and advised to work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with civil society on the response. The UN has also appreciated the work of many NGOs who are already providing relief. The high commissioner also welcomed the Indian Supreme Court’s subsequent instruction on March 31 to ensure that migrants should be provided enough food, water, beds and supplies as well as psychosocial counseling in make-shift shelters.
Appropriate Measures That are Needed to be Taken
Since it has been largely observed that sue to the complete unplanned situation of lockdown, the migrants have suffered to the fullest. Human rights groups and construction associations have warned that migrant workers are disproportionately at risk from the impact of the pandemic, due to inadequate and crowded living conditions, lockdowns and harsh containment measures, limited access to healthcare and basic services, poor working conditions and exploitative labor systems.  The basic planning was required to be done at the very ground level before declaring the nation-wide lockdown. The government was required to make the arrangements beforehand, at the very initial level.
However, considering the present scenario, it has become important to note that:-
  • The provision of basic human rights is important to be ensured to the migrants and the government is required to take the major steps to ensure that the migrant laborers.
  • The safety of the migrants and their children need to be ensured along with the proper and regular availability and provision of food and basic necessities throughout the lockdown.
  • Moreover, it should also be ensured that these people do not contact the deadly disease and should be protected from at any cost.
  • Even after the end of the lockdown, it should be ensured that major beneficial policies should be brought about by the government to relieve the migrants.
  • The post-disaster work which took place in Odisha has shown that the mental and physical health of children require utmost attention.
  • The relief camps, labor colonies and transit camps at state borders, as well as quarantine facilities which have been arranged at the block or panchayat level must arrange safe and child-friendly shelters that provide nutritious food, water and sanitation facilities for families.
  • The laborers should be allowed to undertake small tasks, if they do so, in order to let them earn bare minimum livelihood for near future perspectives. In addition to the same, unnecessary violence by the police forces should be avoided.
It has been observed that, the migrant labors have been the ones who have been hit hard by the steps taken to control the global pandemic. The lockdown have proved to be disastrous for the migrant laborers as well as for their children. The ways to earn livelihood seems no longer available to a largest extent and there seems no possibility of the availability of the same. Moreover, the atrocities and violence which are being meted out towards these individuals is hard to avoid. Hence there is an urgent need on the part of the authorities to undertake appropriate measures and make the arrangements, depending upon the circumstances. In addition, the authorities are required to take major policy decisions to ensure the provision of basic human rights to these individuals per se.




Ritika Sharma is a 3rd year law student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU,  Delhi. 





In content Picture Credits: qz.com/india


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