Skip to main content

Migrants walking on highway feel brunt of policy that depends on GDP growth alone


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 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

Sorry state of Indian academics: why was I thrown out of Delhi varsity interview room?

By Dr. Abhay Kumar*  The interview for the post of political science (Guest) was scheduled on Saturday afternoon, September 10, 2022. Given my previous experience, I was not willing to appear for it. But friends persuaded me to go and fight for our rights. I reached the college well before the time. When my turn came and I entered the room. The first question was asked about my experience. I said that I had taught for four semesters at NCWEB. I mentioned that I had taught ”Comparative politics”, “International Relations”, “Comparative Political Thoughts” and “Indian Government and Politics”. I said that as a teacher I had taught all the articles listed in the syllabus of the same Delhi University and the expert could ask anything about any reading or ideas. Friends, the first question asked by a female member, perhaps she is the principal of the college if I am not wrong, to give the full form of NCWEB! The second question asked by a male expert, perhaps he is the political science dep

Musician and follower of Dr Ambedkar? A top voilinist has this rare combination!

Some time back, a human rights defender, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, who frequently writes for Counterview, forwarded to me a video interview with Guru Prabhakar Dhakade, calling him one of India's well known violinists.  Dhakade is based in Nagpur and has devoted his life for the Hindustani classical music. A number of his disciples have now been part of Hindi cinema world in Mumbai, says Rawat. He has performed live in various parts of the country as well as abroad. What however attracted me was Dhakade's assertions in video about Dr BR Ambedkar, India's undisputed Dalit icon. Recorded several years back at his residence and music school in Nagpur, Dhakade not only speaks candidly about issues he faced, but that he is a believer in Dr Ambedkar's philosophy. It is in this context that Dhakade narrates his problems, even as stating that he is determined to achieve his goal. A violinist and a follower of Ambedkar? This was new to me. Rarely do musicians are found to take a

Tokens, symbols or incipient feminists? : First generation women sociologists in India

By IMPRI Team  The online event on the theme ‘Tokens, Symbols or Incipient Feminists? : The first Generation of Women Sociologists in India’ was held as an initiative of Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi under the #WebPolicyTalk series of The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. Inaugurating the session, Zubiya Moin welcomed the speaker and participants to the program, followed by an introduction to the eminent panelists. Commencing the program, Prof Vibhuti Patel made her opening remarks welcoming Prof Kamla Ganesh, Feminist Sociologists and then greeted Prof Ratna Naidu and the editors of book ‘Reimaging Sociology in India: Feminist Perspective’, Dr Gita Chadha and Dr. Joseph M.T. along with Prof Arvinder Ansari and also welcomed all participants. She set up the stage by making us familiar with women sociologists and their works. Dr Gita Chadha, Editor of the book ‘Reimaging Sociology in India: Feminist Perspective’ After th

Omission of duty by BSF and police: Hindu forcefully kidnapped, taken to Bangladesh

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), & National Convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI) writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** I am writing this to focus on the life and situation of the poor and marginalized villagers living alongside the Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal. Through the several complaints we made throughout the years to your good office, it is now evident that the people of this border are living in an acute crisis, not only from a financial perspective but also in terrible distress. The people of the border are devoid of their basic rights and are subjected to immense torture, harassment and restrictions mostly enacted by the Border Security Force personnel, who are supposed to be posted at the international borders with intentions to protect the Indian citizenry. However, on the contrary, incidents of victimizing Indian citizens are being witnessed at large by the BSF. 130 Bhot

Tamil Nadu govt claiming to reform Hindu religion, temples. People deserve better

By NS Venkataraman  For the last several decades, there have been hate campaign against Hinduism in Tamil Nadu in a subtle or not so subtle manner. Initially, it was a hate campaign against brahmins and the brahmins were abused, insulted and physically attacked. Fearing such conditions, many brahmin families left Tamil Nadu to settle down in other states in India or have gone abroad. Now, the brahmin population in Tamil Nadu is at microscopic level, for which these hate campaigners against brahmins were responsible. Later on, emboldened by the scenario of scared brahmin families not resisting and running away, the hate campaigners started focusing on Hindus. For some years, when M.G.Ramachandran and Jayalalitha were the chief ministers of the state, the hate Hindu campaigners were not much heard, as both these chief ministers were staunch believers in Hindu philosophy and have been offering prayers in temples in full public view. However, in the last eighteen months in

Emerging dimensions of India’s foreign policy in the context of global politics

By IMPRI Team  The three-day course took place recently, providing participants with an understanding of the development of Indian foreign policy, the complexity of geopolitics, and its flexibility to adjust to and even shape global outcomes. Many distinguished academics, senior scholars, former Indian diplomats, and journalists who are skilled observers and commentators of India’s foreign policy will serve as instructors for this course. Day 1 The three-day immersive online certificate training on “Emerging Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy and Global Politics”, an initiative by the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), began on July 14th, 2022 at 5:00 PM (IST) on Zoom platform. Dr Souravie Ghimiray served as the emcee throughout the 3 days of the event and welcomed the distinguished speakers of Day 1. The esteemed panel on Day 1 consisted of, Dr Soumita Basu, Associate Professor, Department of Intern

Demographic parameters of India@75: resource allocation, political representation

By IMPRI Team  As per UN Population Prospects 2022, India is going to be the most populous country in the world. In this regard, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi with #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) , organized a panel discussion, #WebPolicyTalk, as part of the series The State of Population Development- #PopulationAnd Development on India@75: Most Populous Country? The moderator of the event was Mr Devender Singh, Global Studies Programme, University of Freiburg and a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI. The panellists for the event were Prof P.M Kulkarni, Demographer, Retired Professor of Population Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU) , New Delhi; Dr U.V Somayajulu, Co-Founder, CEO and Executive Director, Sigma Research and Consulting ; Dr Sonia George, General Secretary, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Kerala; Prof K.S James, Director and Senior Professor, International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai. Th

Bhagawat Gita shows the way for the attitude to life and desirable goal of life

By NS Venkataraman*  When a mother delivers a human body, this body has no identity. Then, parents, relatives, friends consult each other and discuss the alternate appropriate names and arrive at a suitable name for this human body and this body is known and identified by this name. This human body, which steadily grow just like animals, plants and others and after experiencing the pleasures and pains of worldly life alternately for several years, perish one day, for the body to be burnt or buried. This body, bearing a name as it’s identity, comes in to the world and goes away from the world and the name that is the identity for the body also goes away along with the body. This is the scenario for several thousands of years that have gone by. The question: One question that does not seem to be still “convincingly explained” in a way that will appeal to the brain in the human body, is as to whether this human body only consists of flesh, bone and blood with well

Trying to tell a rooted story: Decolonial imagery, Brahmastra and Pushpa’s Srivalli

By Gautam Bisht*  I recently watched Brahmastra and I feel the film is a nice illustration of the disastrous turn good intentions may take. The film is trying to tell a rooted story, about ‘astras’ using high quality VFX (whatever that is) but comes across as cringe. With no dearth of awkward moments in the film, my personal favorite are scenes where Shiva is touching the feet of his elders. The film just manages to make regular everyday actions look bizarre and alien. It’s the kind of film that can make even right-wing people feel disappointed in tradition. One way to explain this, is the paradox of decoloniality. If you don't know what decoloniality is, it may just mean that you are doing some interesting stuff in life. But as someone interested in social science, I have to work with such concepts. Simply put, decoloniality cannot be explained simply. One has to go through some dense and convoluted spaces to get there. It’s like scoring weed for the first time in Delhi. You would

Not my burden of shame: Malaysia's apathy in tackling problem of sexual harassment

By Jeswan Kaur*  "There was no such thing as child abuse. Parents owned their children. They could do whatever they wanted." -- actress Ellen Burstyn Condemning, judging and humiliating - it this the very nature of people in general or is this what Malaysians are best known for? When a 15-year-old actress recently made a damning revelation that she was molested as a child by her perverted father, support was far from coming. Instead, many name shamed Puteri Nuraaina Balqis, calling her "stupid" and rebuking her for seeking cheap publicity by insulting her father. They "advised" her to pray more, "be thankful to her father for bringing her into this world and remember that she would be given something by Allah for insulting her father." Would any of those who condemned Puteri Balqis "enjoy" being molested, raped or sexually harassed? Would they fancy calling their house a sanctuary when safety was no where in sight? Do these insensitive