Lockdown is good, but…

Image courtesy Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

On March 24, the Prime Minister of India announced a nationwide lockdown for twenty one days. While I welcome this necessary move, the fact that such a decision was made with no preparation and no thought  for the livelihood of and food for the homeless, migrant workers and the poor, is worthy of criticism. A large number of India’s population lives in poverty and hunger. What happens to the people who depend on daily wages? It’s been more than a week since the shallow promises of economic packages and ration for the poor were made — yet no one has been given a single meal by the government till now. There are more deaths due to hunger than due to COVID-19.

I condemn this lockdown that has been imposed without ensuring that the poor and the hungry are fed. I condemn this negligence of the ruling government who should have called for an emergency parliament session and made any decision only after discussing it with all the members of the parliament. They could have drawn out a plan for ensuring food to those who are below the poverty line. The poor workers and the homeless could have been provided with food by the district administrations. But the government was too busy with other things.

It was more interested in bringing Indians from countries like Italy and Iran which have been highly affected by the pandemic. The government was able to send flights to these countries, especially to transport those Indians stranded in these countries. A flight from Malaysia to India with one hundred and thirty people was facilitated by this very government just four to five days before the lockdown. They also transported hundreds of people from Wuhan,China, which was the epicentre of the Corona pandemic. There is no objection to this because we would have expected our government to act if we or our loved ones were stranded in one of those countries. So this is not the problem. The problem is that the urgency with which the government acted upon bringing these people back, is not  to be seen when it is a question of safeguarding the poor and the workers.

Image courtesy Quartz

It is gruesome. People who had turned to big cities for their livelihoods — the migrant workers, the homeless — are going back to their villages on foot. If some have to walk two to three hundred kilometers, there are others who have to walk thousands of kilometers to reach their respective villages. A pregnant woman died while walking back from Bangalore to Raichur. These migrant workers are not only forced to walk for hundreds of kilometers, risking their lives, with their children, their belongings, they are also facing police brutality. All this, while our government is least bothered.

Is it not possible for the government to provide these workers with a makeshift place to stay and food — wherever they are? Can’t they be provided with transportation facilities with the help of the police and the army? 

The laborers, the migrant workers, dalits, all born in this country, have toiled day and night to build this nation are they not even seen as human beings. On the other hand,  the Non-Resident Indians receive VIP treatment. While the International media is showing all of this, what is the Indian media doing? Our media is showing the migrant workers being beaten black and blue by the police as though it is a TV soap opera. The lockdown is being presented as an achievement of this government. 

Now that the lockdown has already been announced, I request the honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government to ensure that the hungry are fed and the homeless are provided with a shelter, lest the efforts of the government to save people from Corona, i.e. this lockdown, ends up killing people because of hunger.