September 22, 2020

Coronavirus: India’s pandemic lockdown turns into a human tragedy

When I spoke to him on the phone, he had just returned home to his village in the northern state of Rajasthan from neighbouring Gujarat, where he worked as a mason.

In the rising heat, Goutam Lal Meena had walked some 300km (186 miles) on macadam in his sandals in the rising heat. He said he had survived on water and biscuits.

In Gujarat, Mr Meena earned up to 400 rupees ($5.34; £4.29) a day and sent most of his earnings home. Work and wages dried up after India declared a 21-day lockdown with four hours notice on the midnight of 24 March to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (India has reported more than 1,000 Covid-19 cases and 27 deaths so far.) The shutting down of all transport meant that he was forced to travel on foot.

“I walked through the day and I walked through the night. What option did I have? I had little money and almost no food,” Mr Meena told me, his voice raspy and strained.

He was not alone. All over India, millions of migrant workers are fleeing its shuttered cities and trekking home to their villages.

These informal workers are the backbone of the big city economy, constructing houses, cooking food, serving in eateries, delivering takeaways, cutting hair in salons, making automobiles, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers, among other things. Escaping poverty in their villages, most of the estimated 100 million of them live in squalid housing in congested urban ghettos and aspire for upward mobility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *