Picture 1: A boy, dead tired from a walk his little body can hardly take, sleeps on a suitcase being wheeled by his mother. The weight has almost doubled for the woman, who drags the suitcase with her son over it, but doesn’t slow down as she keeps pace with the small group walking on the highway in Agra, Uttar Pradesh.
Picture 2: A group of Delhi’s police personnel arrives at Mary Kom’s residence with a birthday cake for her son Prince Kom and sings “Happy Birthday” in chorus as the little one cuts the cake with sheer joy in his eyes.
Contrasting pictures of same India
These two heavily contrasting pictures were the highlights of Indian media on Thursday amid the lockdown that has been imposed since March 25 owing to the outbreak of coronavirus. While the first scenario is among the latest to join the wrenching montage of migrant families forced to travel home, left without jobs, homes or any money since the country went into lockdown in late-March to slow the spread of coronavirus, the second picture reflects the advantage enjoyed by the privileged section of the society.
Thank you @DCPNewDelhi for making this birthday so special for my younger son Prince Kom.
— Mary Kom OLY (@MangteC) May 14, 2020
No end of plight for migrant workers
Over the weeks, the migrants left their places of work in hordes, starting on foot, on cycles or in trucks and autos for their villages in states hundreds of kilometres away.
Many have lost their lives before reaching home, either in road accidents or from hunger, exhaustion or illness. Buses or trains arranged recently are no help for those already on the move. Many find the train tickets too costly or paperwork laborious.
Last week, a freight train in India’s western Maharashtra state’s Aurangabad district ran over and killed at least 16 home-bound migrant workers who reportedly fell asleep on the tracks due to exhaustion.
These migrant workers did not have jobs, and sometimes food, for over a month as factories remained shut due to the nationwide lockdown in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.
The train accident put the spotlight on the severe hardships faced by millions of migrant workers in India over the past few weeks. Thousands of migrants have been left without work, money or shelter and have been marching to their hometowns from large cities with the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Civil society activists and aid workers maintain that over 300 people have died in this period with many killed in road accidents, the inclement weather, exhaustion and sometimes, hunger.
Only a few state governments have extended relief measures for stranded migrants such as free rations or cash transfers. With the third extension of the lockdown dashing all hope that work would resume soon, about 50,000 migrant workers have been crossing over from Maharashtra into central Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district daily since 3 May.
Hundreds have been huddled inside trucks, precariously perched atop goods lorries, on bicycles, or simply on foot, in a desperate attempt to return home. At times, exhausted migrants sleep on the roadside while their children cry with hunger.
The government had initially asked the millions of stranded migrant workers to pay their own train fares home but now some states are refusing to give consent for trains ferrying them home. Various state governments are now squabbling over requests to accept migrants in light of the pandemic.
Empathy could go a long way
As this grave humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in India, the state and the police should actively be the helping hand of these migrant workers. However, submitting to the requests of the privileged and so many of them coming together to just celebrate a birthday is a commentary on how influential people have the ease to find out a way for celebrations amid the crisis.
Six-time world champion boxer Mary Kom, is a role model for our country. Time and again, she has lent a supporting hand to help people amid coronavirus with her financial contributions. However, she could have opted out of not celebrating her son’s birthday in a grand way involving police personnel. These are mere gestures of empathy that could go a long way building a sensible perception of our sports icons.