To battle the pandemic in a nation of over a billion people, the Indian government has imposed a 21-day lockdown. During this period, only essential services such as grocery shops, banks, and hospitals are to function.
All of India’s 28 states have sealed their borders and are taking immediate steps to encourage physical distancing. The three-week lockdown, however, is proving to be particularly crippling to India’s lower-income groups.
Metropolitan cities like New Delhi and Mumbai are host to millions of migrant workers. Since the lockdown started, their livelihood in the cities has taken a hit. As businesses in the cities are struggling to operate, some of them are sending daily wage workers on unpaid leaves.
Out of jobs and worried about their health, Indian workers are swarming bus stations and highways to find a way to get back to their homes.
Since most state borders are shut and public transport services suspended, thousands of men, women, and children are stranded on the borders of big cities.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Indian government is providing them with food, makeshift shelters and free public transport. India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress has attacked the government over its poor planning of the lockdown.
The Congress Party has accused Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi of being an elitist leader. Many in the opposition are likening the lockdown to another one of BJP’s decisions when the party decided to take 90 percent of India’s currency out of circulation. In 2016, when Modi decided to ban Rs500 and Rs1000 notes, it broke the back of India’s informal labor sector, which employs about 90 percent of India’s workforce.
In an address to the nation, Modi apologized for the pain that the workers have to bear. But he also added that these steps are necessary.
As India is struggling with the rising cases of COVID-19, health experts are worried that workers collecting in large numbers could tip the country over to the next phase of infection. Indian authorities have said that community transmission of novel coronavirus has not yet started but the country might be on the precipice.
With almost two more weeks to go till the curfew is lifted, Delhi’s state government is asking the migrants to stay in Delhi. But without a clear plan of action to accommodate and feed the workers, their fate still hangs in limbo.