Skip to main content

Betrayed? Migrants walking towards Rajasthan 'don’t count' in design of New India

Migrants resting along the Gujarat-Rajasthan highway
By Gagan Sethi*
The other day some of us decided to go along the ghostlike highway that connects Ahmedabad with Rajasthan border. It was less than four hours ride from the Chiloda Circle to Shamlaji (on the Ahmedabad to Udaipur super highway). Starting at 9:30 am, we returned at 4 pm, interacting with several of the migrants who were moving in groups ranging from two to 25.
In all, we estimated later, they were around 450 of them; 70% of them were heading to different Uttar Pradesh districts, and the rest to Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Many of them were scared of talking, as they identified any vehicle that passed by as police surveillance van. However, they would open up after we would give them some food and water.
None had plan their trip. All daily/contract wagers, they had not received their April entitlements except ration . They just took their haversack, started walking, not even knowing the route, sometimes getting into fields near police check posts. At 43-44 degrees temperature and covering 35-40 km a day, they appeared to be moving mindlessly, hoping some day they would reach home. Walking in such despair is the way to be hopeful. Among them there were young boys and women, some with children.
Daily unskilled wage workers, they told us that they worked at metro rail sites in Ahmedabad, while others said, they were employed as casual labourers at small or medium scale enterprises -- like saree dyeing units. Most of them would start walking in the wee hours.
After 2 pm, they would huddle under a culvert of a large over-bridge being, currently being built on the six lane highway, so that Gujarat could vibrate even more. They would again walk for another few hours in the evening.
As we crossed the Ahmedabad-Udaipur railway crossing, we saw hordes of them walking along rail track -- the reason being, very few know the routes they were taking and this was a predictable route notwithstanding that walking along a railway track is far more difficult but allows you to also escape the police patrolling on the roads. The Google map technology, which allows us to locate our passages, is available only on smart phones, and that is the privilege of the few. The rest still operate with old phones.
Talking of the phones, there was this desperate need to recharge them at different points, which surely isn’t available. Indeed, perhaps it would sound hollow if someone even thinks of trying and procuring solar mobile chargers for them -- of course Chinese made -- costing Rs 300 to 400, “killing” Indian markets. I don’t understand what this means for the Swadesh argument but at this moment a Chinese solar charger can be huge support.
As we spoke to them, we could see anger in their eyes, especially when a jeep passed by to give food and water, but refusing to give lift to the next stop. Most of them said they had no other means to survive. One of them even said, once back to their “vatan” (home) they would at least be given burial or cremation.
Some walked with rucksacks, while others hung rexine bags or “thelas” on their shoulders and a water bottle in the hand. A few dragged their bags on the two wheels attached beneath their bag. Many had already developed swollen feet. Rubber slippers they wore had come to a breaking point. They were repaired with pins and caused even more agony.

We had ordered 500 chappals for distribution, the multi purpose gamcha which we also see on TV but these will prove insufficient. I just couldn’t reconcile as to what compulsion made these people take the suicidal step of walking 1,200 to 1,800 km.
Most of them said they had no money to pay for the train fare (approximately Rs 700), and also that the Shramik Express trains for the next 15 days were booked, and that they wouldn’t be able to survive for so long. Hence, they decided to begin walking all the way to UP, Bihar, Jharkhand. 
The irony was that they were walking past the grand concrete buildings all along the empty ghostlike route, most of which they and their ilk had constructed. Today those edifices look ugly in the circumstances, reminding me of the Brutalist architecture. On way I counted at least eight international schools with imposing buildings advertising world class education for children. There were at least 50 temples with grandiose architecture, at least eight colleges. What a visual contradiction of the gross inequality perpetuated by neo-liberal economics! 
The irony was, they were walking past grand concrete buildings along the ghostlike route, most of which they and their ilk had constructed
The last lockdown, I thought, was the last straw for the migrants, especially from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar, who had no resources to survive in their “karmabhumi.” So it was better to die en route while returning their janambhumi, is what some of them told us.
Surely, it reflected the inability of the in-migrant states to deal with the humongous tragedy.
Seeking necessary permissions, along with my colleagues I decided to take this route after watching NDTV visuals of migrant workers walking home from Mumbai and Delhi. Almost impulsively, I phoned up Roshini of Yuva and Amitabh of Oxfam if they could at least run food and water distribution on wheels. It occurred to me: Closer home, migrants were walking from Ahmedabad, towards Rajasthan.
On my return, I realised that food and water takes care of just four hours of their months of ordeal. I wondered if we could put up outposts every 40 km in coordination authorities and community groups. Each of these outposts would provide chappals, medicines, clothes for women in place of sanitary napkins (which they don’t find comfortable), solar mobile chargers, maps and guidance to those who don’t know the routes.
From the next days we have been meeting and discussing with district collectors on the routes requesting to collaborate. We offered to run shuttle bus service on the 100 km route at our cost. They seemed scared that if all this gets announced they won’t be able to handle the crowd, which may be true, they also said that if we legitimise this and Rajasthan doesn’t accept them then the Collector Aravalli will have to bear the brunt.
Among the suggestions we put forward included negotiating with private bus owners to help these migrants reach their destination. In Gujarat there are at least eight such routes where countless (an estimated over 50 lakh) migrants are on the move.
Those who are waiting at the starting points across the state (in cities like Rajkot, Ahmedabad, Vadodara etc.) would need well-designed Shramik Bhavans. Private and public residential schools, hostels, religious infrastructure could be made available and opened with all amenities, including creches and adequate medical facilities with NGO help.
We found both the collectors sensitive and willing to open such Bhavans or shelter homes requesting civil society to run them. But they can’t allow shuttle buses to operate.
Centralised rules in disaster management are generic and don’t lend themselves to solution finding. My previous mantra in disaster mitigation has been Listen, Trust, Empower, Decentralise. Communities, administrative leadership and civil society can easily sort this out 100 km by 100 km, rather than every 15 days wait for one man from the pulpit to tell you how to proceed for the fortnight.
While I write this, food and water distribution goes into the sixth day and we struggle to find a solution, which is within the rules, yet can lessen the ordeal of those who walk because, as one in the groups told us, “We waited based on a promise of Rajkot authorities for 15 days in a shelter home with subhuman conditions but nothing happened. Why should we trust the Government?”
Surely, civil society leaders can’t discuss this in webinars and WhatsApp, but will have to lead from the front. One needs to provide hope and regain trust of Indians who have been betrayed because they don’t count in the design of New India, where economic progress is the only driving policy framework.
---
*Chair, Janvikas, Ahmedabad

Comments

TRENDING

Nobel laureates join international figures, seek release of Bhima Koregaon accused activists

Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk,  Wole Soyinka Counterview Desk  As many as 57 top international personalities, including Nobel laureates, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers cultural personalities, and members of Parliament of European countries, have urged the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to ensure immediate release of human rights defenders in India “into safe conditions”.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Russia, China to call the shots in Middle East, as Muslim nations turn into house of cards

By Haider Abbas* Only a naive would buy that the ‘situation of ceasefire’ between the State of Israel and Hamas would continue, as if the foiled attempt to demolish Al Aqsa this time, is not be repeated, if not in any near future then in sometime to come. Israel already has spurned the ‘ceasefire’ by storming Al Aqsa after the Friday prayers on May 21.

Hunger, lack of food security behind India's 'slip' in UN's sustainable development rank

By Dr Gian Singh*  According to a report released by the United Nations on June 6, 2021, India's ranking of achieving Sustainable Development based on the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs) set by the 193 countries in the 2003 agenda, which was 115th last year, has slipped to 117th position this year. India ranks not only the lowest among the BRICS countries -- Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa but also below the four South Asian countries -- Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Collapse of healthcare system? Why 90% of Covid patients treated at home survived

By Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey* Well known Hindustani classical singer Padma Vibhu shan Channulal Mishra, chosen as one of the proposers of Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha elections, lost his wife and elder daughter to Covid in private hospitals in Varanasi. Younger daughter has accused Medwin Hospital of charging Rs 1.5 lakh for treatement of her sister and not being able to explain the cause of death. Pandit Channulal Mishra has asked for a probe into his daughter’s death from the Chief Minister. The family has also asked for the CCTV footage of the ward where deceased daughter was admitted for a week.

Rooted in mistrust? Covid-19’s march into rural India is a very different ball game

By Sudhir Katiyar* As the Covid-19 virus penetrates rural India, the rural communities are responding very differently from their urban counterparts who rushed to the hospitals. The rural communities are avoiding the public health facilities and any mention of the disease. The note argues that this supposedly irrational response is based on a deep-seated mistrust of the state by the rural communities. It can not be resolved with routine Information, Education and Communication (IEC) measures suggested in the Government of India SOP for tackling Covid-19 in rural areas.

Courageous, in-depth attempt to confirm common spiritual values of Christ, Buddha

By RB Sreekumar, IPS*  All religions, both theistic and atheistic designed conceptual and practical architecture, for holistic and comprehensive elevation and enlightenment of humanity. PK Vijayan, in his novel “Nirvana of Jesus Christ” (Notion Press, 2020) through creative imagination portrayed personality evolution of the two progenitors of God-centric and sagaciously logical major religions – Jesus Christ of Christianity and Gautama Buddha of Buddhism.

Covid fear? Cremation rituals gone upside down, Dalits asked to do Brahminical rituals

By Abhay Jain, Sandeep Pandey*  As Covid consumes human life in a very conspicuous way we are confronted with additional problem of disposing of human corpses. Cremation grounds are lit with continuous pyres, graveyards are running out of land and now Ganga has become a mass grave potentially polluting its water.

Why hasn't Govt of India responded to US critique of freedom of religion under Modi?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* About two weeks ago, on May 12, 2021, the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken released in Washington the ‘2020 International Religious Freedom Report.’ This official annual report of the US Government details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes US actions to support religious freedom worldwide. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, this report highlights the fact that ‘religious freedom is both a core American value and a universal human right’.