Chandra Mohan, right, a plumber working in a Delhi suburb, is walking to his village, 680 miles away in another state. Hundreds of migrants like him have been forced to leave the capital as jobs have disappeared. Mohan is shown March 27, 2020, leaving New Delhi Image Credit: Washington Post

They are the people who keep India going. Scores of extremely poor migrant labourers - men and women scraping by to eke out a living. And they are the people the Indian government forgot in its response to coronavirus.

Now a sea of them is on the roads in a great migration back to the villages. They have no money, no food and no hope. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen in the time of the contagious coronavirus when social distancing is key.

The Narendra Modi government flew special flights to ensure that Indians abroad came back home, but has made no arrangements for the weakest Indians - the people Mahatma Gandhi called the “last man in the line”.

How do these people get back home when the government has stopped all trains, buses, every kind of transport in the biggest lockdown ever imposed in the world.

So they walk at the mercy of police from various states who keep attacking and beating them.

Says one 27-year-old Junaid walking back to Amzamgarh with great weariness: “All of us know that the government, any government, will do nothing for us. Why do you people hate our existence? We have no money, no food no water even. If God wants me to survive I will.”

Another, 16-year-old Reema, who used to work as a housemaid cleaning people’s homes in south Delhi, says: “I don’t know if I have the virus - some people I worked for came back from abroad. Rich people are giving it to us. But they have not even paid my salary - just told me not to enter the house. I have to go to my village in Bihar, where at least I won’t starve to death.”

Most of the states l that the migrants come from are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but these state governments have also made no arrangements of any sort for these people, who are trying to walk thousands of kilometres to simply go home.

The Modi government seems to have had zero planning before announcing a 21-day quarantine. The migrant labourers who live on one job and the next and who would have been left destitute has not been factored in. Like with the Modi-made demonetisation disaster: the brunt of this draconian 21-day lockdown is being borne by the poorest section of society.

What strikes you is the fatalistic resignation - the migrants know they have got the short shrift from the Modi government and yet they expect no better from any government. The expectations from government, the people they work for, and even God is zero.

Expectations in India of the state delivering are the prerogative of the rich Indian - they cocoon themselves in gated communities with their own electricity and water supply. But a contagious virus does not understand the hierarchy of the class system.

The Modi government has made arrangements to re-telecast the Ramayana on the state broadcaster Doordarshan, but as you sink back into your comfortable couch cloaked in your indifference, remember that a pandemic is ravaging the roads.

Even this decision of the Modi governance ostensibly to provide amusement in quarantine is stunning in its discrimination - people have no food and no water, but lets give some entertainment.

Swati Chaturvedi shirttail, Swati Chaturvedi intro, Swati Chaturvedi
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