THE PLIGHT of domestic MIGRANT WORKERS IN INDIA DURING COVID-19 CRISIS
Abstract: Domestic migrant workers in India travel from their villages to work in bigger cities. The lockdown as a result of the coronavirus emergency left this marginalised section of population stranded in their cities of work- without shelter, food, livelihood and means of transportation to return back to their villages. The article provides an assessment of the current condition of these internal migrant workers in India during the COVID-19 crisis and provides an analysis of their legal and human rights. It discusses the inhumane treatment afforded to them and also highlights the emergence of social boycotting of these workers by the community. In this light, the article also studies the response of the government and the judiciary to deal with this situation.
1.Introduction- 2. Governmental Response to the Migrant Workers Exodus- 3. Supreme Court of India and Migrant Workers- 4. Inhumane treatment, Social Boycott and Stigmatization- 5. Right to Food: Public Distribution System-6. Conclusion.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shown the vulnerability of the nations across the world. It is inflicting damage not only to human life but also to the socio-economic structures surrounding it where the gaps between the privileged and the marginalized have resurfaced.3The legislature, executive and the judiciary in India are grapping to with this is “social emergency”4. As a response to the COVID-19 crisis, countries are taking several steps to prevent its spread through lockdowns, isolations, quarantines, travel bans and declaration of emergencies. India too went into the world’s biggest lockdown starting 24th March 2020 which at the time of writing this paper still subsists. The lockdown has affected some segments of the society more than the others. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, pointed out that the Indian lockdown represents a massive logistical and implementation challenge because of its population and density.5
Globally, the condition of migrant workers has witnessed an ugly truth since the outbreak of pandemic.6 World over the number of internal migrants is about two‐and‐a‐half times that of international migrants.7 In India, it is estimated that around 139 million internal migrant workers travel to cities from villages for work in the informal sector which constitutes almost 80% of the Indian workforce. For the disempowered workmen, migration to urban economic centres provides an escape from poverty and unemployment. With the lockdown, not only did the factories, establishments and workplaces heavily dependent upon migrant workers shut down, but their means of being transported to their secure native place was also stopped. The loss of employment, starvation from hunger, eviction due to non-payment of rent and lack of effective means to return back to their villages were amplified in greater measure due to the outbreak of the pandemic.8 The initial reaction of the government was to transport migrant workers back to their native stations which failed miserably for lack of preparedness and the risk of the virus spreading en masse. As many as 500,000-600,000 workers had to walk back home on foot in the absence of any transportation options.9 The lockdown also led to many law and order issues in as much as, in the absence of the state being able to restrain workers from venturing out, the law enforcement agencies had to employ means to curtail actions that breached statutory compliances. Many died walking hundreds of miles and some even committed suicide.10
In this background, the objective of the paper is to study the situation of migrant workers in India during the COVID-19 crisis from a socio-legal perspective. The first part of the paper highlights the immediate government response in terms of grants and aids for the migrant workers. Thereafter, the paper studies how the Supreme Court of India has dealt with the present situation. The third and fourth part of the paper highlight the major issues which are faced by the internal migrant workers in India, which have not been catered to by the government. Finally, the paper provides concluding remarks.
1 Garima Tiwari, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at School of Law, Bennett University, India.
2 Mr. Aakarsh Kamra is an Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India.
3 Nigam, COVID-19:Dealing with an Untameable Virus, 8 April 2020 in https://ssrn.com/abstract=3571289
4 PM Modi calls Covid-19 situation ‘social emergency’, says lockdown may not be lifted in one go, 8 April 2020 in https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/.
6 P. Heijmans, Virus Surge in Southeast Asia Migrant Workers Serves as Warning, 28 April 2020 in https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-28/virus-surge-in-southeast-asia-migrant-workers-serves-as-warning.
7 International Organization of Migration, World Migration Report, 2020.
8 World Bank, COVID-19 Crisis Through a Migration Lens (2020) in https://openknowledge.worldbank.org.
9 R. Sadam, Last Journey: Migrant Worker Dies after Walking for Miles to Reach Home in TN amid Lockdown, 4 April 2020 in https://www.news18.com/ ; Covid-19: At least 22 migrants die while trying to get home during lockdown, 29 March 2020 in https://scroll.in.
10 Coronavirus Lockdown: Another Migrant Dalit Labour Commits Suicide, 3 April 2020 in https://www.groundxero.in.