Skip to main content

Odisha's migration crisis 'strikes a nerve', highlights deep-rooted vulnerabilities

By Warsha Thakur*
The world is in the throes of a massive crisis, one that is not unprecedented, but perhaps that caught us off-guard. At a time when enemies were being realised through the markedness of borders, nationalities and wealth, the Covid-19 brought to us the infallibility of human life and its significant fear -- death by disease.
As the number of coronavirus cases is spreading with an alarming rapidity, nationally and globally, it is extraordinary to witness the human spirit come together in fighting the pandemic, but even in the togetherness, systemic inequalities remain.
After the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020, we saw millions of migrant workers emerge on the road walking to their respective hometown left with no other choice. Both the state and the central governments seemed unprepared in facing this crisis. As of now the status quo pertaining to the migrant crisis remains. A second round of lockdown and we have committed the same mistake twice over not catering to the plight of a whole working class.
I spoke to seven sarpanches from across four district, i.e. Kendrapara, Sambalpur, Mayurbhanj and Jagatsinghpur, of Odisha, a state that witnesses lakhs of voluntary and involuntary migration.
The sarpanch of village panchayat Ghondash, district Jagasinghpur, tells me there are no cases of coronavirus and all the residents under his gram panchayat are strictly abiding by the state health department prescribed norms. Other than the farmers and the owner of the local grocery store, nobody ventures out, he informs.
This gram panchayat houses a population of approximately 5,000 people and nearly 300 inhabitants work outside the state to pursue better work opportunities. Popular destinations are Hyderabad, Chennai and, Goa. They work in the hotel industry and some in the gas factory. Currently, 200-210 workers are stuck outside the state due to the nationwide lockdown.
Most of them couldn’t return partly due to the sudden nationwide lockdown and partly due to growing stigma at home – village residents were highly apprehensive of returning migrants and consequent contamination. The sarpanch tells me that two of the workers had to let go of their train tickets in fear of the backlash from their own folks. Presently, they are stranded in Goa.
The sarpanch from Mayurbhanj district informs me that mostly all’s well and there’s enough supply of grains and no cases of the dreaded virus is reported so far. Jasipur Gram Panchayat of Mayurbhanj district is home to nearly 4000 people and about 200-250 people travel to another state to earn a living.
They work as craftsmen, labourers and chefs managing a decent income, otherwise not possible at home. Popular destinations are Surat, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Most of them haven’t been able to return to their home state. A similar story reiterates across Mayurbhanj district.
Kusiapal Gram Panchayat of Kendrapara district has a similar story. Home to about 4,900 people, about 300-400 fellow natives are waiting in anticipation of returning home facing a harsh lockdown but without any social protection. Most of them are stranded in Surat, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Four of the returnees are in quarantine over suspected symptoms.
Popular destination of Odisha migrants are Surat, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Most of them haven’t been able to return to their home state
Jamujori village panchayat, home to nearly 5,000 people, of Sambalpur is doing well for its residents. Food supply is enough and social distancing is religiously practiced with no cases of coronavirus reported thus far. But uncertainty over the return of approximately 300-310 fellow residents looms large. They are stranded in Delhi, West Bengal and Gujarat. 

The conspicuous migrant workers... who are they?

The financially precarious service workers ensuring speedy delivery of online purchases, the craftsman who toils at construction sites, the weaver who labours in catastrophic textile factories, the waiters at restaurants, employees of taxi industry and, many such workers crucial to the functioning of a city otherwise invisible; find themselves on the wrong side of a socio-economic strata in the face of disasters, natural or man-made.
The truth here is simple -- systemic social inequalities make some groups more vulnerable than others, and the question of intent and care for the socially & economically backward, if it exists, is important but that does not remedy hunger, loss of jobs and be wilderness stuck in a foreign land.
The last pandemic, flu of 1918, wiped out 6% of India’s population. At the time, 6% of the population equals 14 million. According to research reports workers at low end jobs and poor formed the highest proportion of the 6% population. In absence of an effective social security net, it’s obvious the poor yield the worst consequences.
Migration experts and scholars identify Odisha as one of the popular source regions for interstate movement of workers. Some evident reasons are climate driven (cyclone prone areas), lack of work opportunities and better wages. Odisha is arguably doing well in facing this crisis with its popular cash in hand, pension disbursement model and distribution of 1 kg rice and 5 kg of daal to its ration cardholders for 3 months starting April.
An important caveat to note, this probably leaves out the non-ration card holders, who have failed to obtain one in the past, for reasons pertaining to identification hurdles including failure of biometric authentications. Identification authentication is critical but not while many die due to hunger and an impending disease.
Some arrangements pertaining to its migrant population such as setting up of 36 camps in the state as well as control rooms to assist migrant workers from other states is in place. The State has also urged Odia associations in other states to help stranded migrants.
However, the success of a concrete strategy to bring back its migrant population depends on the speedy concurrence of national and sub national plan of action. Immediate provisioning of railways to the migrant population is crucial to help them reach home.
As we progress through the difficult times, acknowledgment of the migrant working class is crucial both at the central and state level to remedy this disaster. Images and reports emerging on the migrant crisis strike a nerve and highlight the deep rooted vulnerabilities of an entire working class of people. The outcome of this pandemic is uncertain. But when the dust settles, just like every other Indian disaster, there will be another tale to solidify who matter and who don’t.
---
* Alumni of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad

Comments

TRENDING

North Gujarat gram panchayat bars villagers from dealing with Muslim hawkers, traders

By Our Representative  A gram panchayat in North Gujarat has barred its residents not to buy anything from Muslim traders and hawkers. An order of the Waghasan group gram panchayat of Tharad taluka of Banaskantha district dated June 30 states that the decision has been taken in the wake of beheading of a Hindu tailor after he posted a derogatory writeup on Prophet Mohammad in Udaipur. The gram panchayat resolution says, anyone seen buying or selling any commodity from a Muslim hawker or trader would be fined Rs 5,100. Bringing this to light, Mujahid Nafees, convener, Minority Coordination Committee, in a letter to Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel, says, the state government should take legal action against the panchayat chief who has signed the “unjust” order. The letter says, the act of the sarpanch and other signatories is a violation of rule of law of the state and threat to peace, pointing out, the move is in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution, which says that none

Unlike Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India: Ukrainian scholar tells 'Indian friends'

Counterview Desk In an open letter to "dear Indian friends", Anastasia Piliavsky, born in Odessa, Ukraine, studied at Boston and Oxford Universities (on a Rhodes Scholarship), and now teaches at King’s College, London, has said that she faces "deep moral dilemma", personally and professionally, over the "astonishingly unified Indian response to the war in Ukraine." Based on her interaction with a "number of thoughtful and caring Indian friends", in this letter, she says, she is "reeling at the ubiquitous silence at, justifications of or outright support for Putin’s terror, which now prevails in India, at the ubiquitous #IStandWithPutin and #istandwithrussia hashtags." She insists, India must understand, "Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India. Soviet leaders, beginning with (the Ukrainian) Nikita Khrushchev – who declared hindi rusi bhai bhai – built up deep political and cultural exchange with India." Text : I

PLFS data: Is rising employment good news? Deeper analysis suggests contrary results

By Ishwar Chandra Awasthi, Puneet Kumar Shrivastav*  Results of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 2020-21 , released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India (GoI) on June 14, 2022, show improvement in work force participation rate (WPR) and labour force participation rate (LFPR) and declining unemployment rate. Four rounds of data have been released from 2017-18 to 2020-21 based on PLFS. The general trend in the last four rounds clearly shows consistent increase in WPR and LFPR and falling unemployment rates by usual status (PS+SS). Though increase in WPR and LFPR is reported highest in 2019-20 over 2018-19, yet rising trend in these two key indicators continues throughout, and similarly fall in unemployment is registered highest in 2019-20 over 2018-19. Clearly, the recent results give some solace and relief after unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic that has entailed enormous loss of human lives and livelihoods and crippled economic activit

Technocratic globalism, tyranny? Health Ministry warned: bill to 'enslave' Indians

Sandeep Pandey, Tushar Gandhi By Rosamma Thomas*  Union of Concerned Citizens, a group comprising Magsaysay Award winner Prof Sandeep Pandey, human rights activist Tushar Gandhi, former judge of the Bombay High Court BG Kolse Patil, pediatrician Dr Jacob Puliyel and several renowned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister cautioning him against tabling the draft Public Health Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. “The Public Health (Prevention, Control And Management Of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism And Disasters) Bill, 2017 and a Prospective Bill of 2022 as discussed in news articles, is straightforwardly violative of Fundamental Rights of the citizens of India and therefore, Ultra Vires of the Indian Constitution. It contravenes several International Treaties and Conventions including the Nuremberg Treaty of 1947 which was enacted to ensure that no country would repeat such inhuman medical atrocities on fellow human beings”, the 12-page letter reads. “Strangely, t

'Drop all falsed charges': 150 citizens demand early release of AltNews co-founder

Counterview Desk  About 150 concerned citizens have demanded the release of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of the fact-checkng newsportal AltNews, arrested over a 2018 tweet which allegedly hurt religious sentiments, even as booking for criminal conspiracy and having received foreign funds in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Denied bail last weekend and sent to 14-day judicial custody, the concerned citizens, in a statement, regretted that while the Delhi High Court issued notice to the Delhi police on a petition filed on behalf of Zubair challenging the legality and propriety of his police remand and the seizure of his electronic devices, the “frivolous case” continues. Excerpts: The illegal arrest of Mr. Mohammed Zubair happened on June 27, 2022, by the Delhi Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity over a tweet from 2018. The IPC Sections included 153(a) (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race,

Chennai residents 'suffering': Faulty design, implementation of storm water project

By NS Venkataraman*  The Greater Chennai Corporation is now implementing storm water drainage project in 559 roads, covering a distance of 1033 kilometres, which cost around Rs 4,070 crore. For this massive project, which is targeted to be completed between April and September this year, huge loan has been availed from World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others. Several technocrats have pointed out that the project has been designed with outdated technology and quality of the implementation is so poor that the residents have been put to great hardships. As part of the project, digging of the road has been done to around 5 to 6 feet deep and width of around 4 to 5 feet. The drains are being constructed using steel reinforced cement concrete with two walls on either side with provisions for manhole, chute etc. This has been done in front of several houses leaving little space between the gate of the house and that of the drainage structure. As the work has been going on for mor

Prime Minister's 'affordable' housing policy fails to help Gujarat slum dwellers: Study

By Rajiv Shah  A new study on the implementation of one of the major policy initiatives for the urban poor by the Narendra Modi government after it came to power, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), has said that in Gujarat, which happens to be the Prime Minister’s home state, has quoted state officials as “confirming” that no progress towards tenure regularization, a key requirement for providing housing to the state’s slum dwellers. Stating that this particularly true of smaller town, the study, carried out by the non-profit Homes in the City (HIC), which is based in Bhuj, district headquarter of Kutch that saw a devastating earthquake in 2001, says, the failure to provide affordable housing is there despite the fact that there has been “significant demand” in all the 83 out of 153 Gujarat municipalities studied by experts involved in the study. According to the study, out f a total of 1.41 lakh demands for housing under the Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) category, 94,232 (66.7%)

'Contractor-official nexus led to RTI activist's murder': Fact-finding team seeks probe

Courtyard inside of PWD office where Ranjeet Soni was killed Counterview Desk  A fact-finding team* visited Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh (MP) on June 19, 2022 to meet with the family of Ranjeet Soni, who was shot dead on June 2, 2022 inside the premises of the PWD office in Vidisha. The objective was to gather information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ranjeet Soni and his work on exposing corruption through the use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. A report prepared by the team members says that Ranjeet had been extensively using the RTI Act to access information from the government, and upon receiving documents showing misuse of public funds or corruption, he was filing complaints to various authorities including the Lokyukta, Publi Works Department (PWD) and the Chief Minister’s Office. It notes, Ranjeet used to work as a contractor and often undertook government works in collaboration with other contractors, including those being investigated for his murder. A f

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

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".

Electricity Bill: Centre's reform measures contain 'carrot and stick package' for states

Counterview Desk  The Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Public Services (PCPSPS), claiming to be a network of eminent academics, jurists, erstwhile administrators, trade unionists and social activists, seeking consultations with stakeholders with those who are against the government’s decision to monetise, disinvest and privatise public assets/enterprises, has said that the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill-2022 will have far-reaching impacts on the finances of states. Insisting that the proposed Bill would lead to “assault on India’s federal structure”, in a statement, it says, it would weaken the finances of states’ power distribution companies, have adverse impact on utility employees, cripple the states' finances, impose a heavy cost burden on the smaller subsidized consumers (especially farmers), and benefit only corporate business houses. “States cannot afford to ignore the far-reaching implications of the Bill on their economy, finances, agricultural and industria