Indians have taken to Twitter and other social media channels repeatedly over the past few months, to express anger at the way migrant workers are being mistreated. Photos and videos have gone viral, showing migrant workers walking long distances carrying children or elderly relatives, many with bloodied calluses on their feet from walking barefoot, some collapsing with hunger and thirst.
Tweeps seem furious at the country’s lawmakers and politicians, saying that they have abdicated responsibility.
Tagging the Human Rights Watch, United Nations and the International Labour Organisation, @bhavuksahni tweeted: “@hrw @UNHumanRights @ilo No one cares for the migrant laborers in India. Even government authorities have discarded them, police beats the starving, penniless, poor migrants.”
On Twitter, many Indians criticised Prime Minister Modi’s sudden announcement to go under lockdown within four hours on March 24. That is what resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, they said. Millions of the country’s internal migrants, who were daily wage labourers, were left with no source of food or income.
Tweep @shreyamukherjee posted: “What happens when the government announces nationwide lockdown with a few hours’ notice? A humanitarian crisis unfolds. #india #MigrantLivesMatter”
The first coronavirus case was detected in India on January 30. Twitter users say that the government had enough time to prepare for the lockdown, and that it could have been done in phases, while ensuring that food, transport and basic necessities of the country’s large migrant population was take care of.
Tweep @MushtaqWin posted: “We have seen, how Modi government has locked down the country without giving any time to migrants. The railway department is being headed by the central government. Who will provide services, who will give the package to labourerss? Why are the labourers on the road?
And, @MohneshKohli tweeted: “All BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) making a fool of poor migrants, will have to pay price.”
As starved and exhausted migrant workers made their way back home in the heat, many are dying of exhaustion, committing suicides, or have lost their lives in road accidents. Migrant lives matter, but, Twitter users say, ‘no one cares’.
Like many others, @born_blunt tweeted: “When a celebrity dies, my entire timeline is filled with RIP tweets. Today, 24 migrant labourers died in a road accident. I can sense pin drop silence on my timeline. Be it government, officials, judiciary or even common people no one cares for poor people in India. Indeed poverty is a curse.”
'What is the government doing?'
According to Twitter user @gahmar3 tweeted: “India’s government is for the rich, no one cares for the poor.”
Many have pointed out that the government did not do enough to prevent the situation. The government issued directives to pay full salaries during lockdown but did nothing to support small businesses. They promised billions worth of ration as relief, but many migrant workers, reportedly, don’t even have ration cards.
Finally, after many days of posts from journalists, activists and citizens, the government arranged for trains and buses to ferry the stranded migrant workers.
But, the government also ordered that migrant workers would be allowed to travel only after they had been screened and found asymptomatic.
Following this, some states made it mandatory for migrant workers to secure medical certificates, which they have to pay for, before they can board trains, according to an article on Indian news website scroll.in.
Some Indians have also pointed out that the Indian government has got its priorities wrong from the start, asking why millions were spent on making statutes and welcoming US President Donald Trump earlier this year, but barely any help reached migrant workers.
@DattatrayaIndia tweeted: “Spending 800 crore rupees on Donald Trump's shining function... Charging railway fare money from poor migrant workers….”
Meanwhile, the Cyclone Amphan is scheduled to make landfall on the east coast of India, this evening. Tweeps are worried that the situation might develop into a bigger crisis, with migrant workers being left homeless as they finally reach back.
Tweep @divadas posted: “Strongest storm ever recorded in Bay of Bengal amid a pandemic. Modi determined not let these migrant workers reach home till cyclone ravages their homes. So they not only be JOBLESS but also HOMELESS!
'Where is the PMCares funds?'
Twitter users have also demanded transparency in what is being done to the PM Cares fund, or the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, that was meant to help with relief in the COVID-19 situation. People are asking why the funds they donated, are not reaching the needy and the poor.
Tagging @PMOIndia, and @narendramodi, Twitter user @rkg961 posted: “ I have donated around Rs3000 in PM Cares Fund... I want my money back on account of alleged non-transparency of misuse, and non-audit of funds used. Also, not doing anything for migrants but politics only and making profit out of PM Cares Fund.”
'Stop making it a political agenda'
Many Twitter users also said that the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders seems to be playing petty politics, when Opposition parties try to help the migrant workers.
Tweep @richa_singh wrote: “Can you for one second put yourself in shoes of that migrant worker who is right now inside these buses, stuck at the UP (Uttar Pradesh) Border? Forget politics and optics - can you please find in yourself a bit of humanity to empathise with the anxiety of a person who JUST wants to go home.”