On a usual day, you would find Indian daily wage worker Dayaram Kushwaha and his wife Gyanvati, hauling bricks in a booming northern Delhi Suburb. Somewhere nearby, their five-year-old son plays in the dirt. But, India’s coronavirus lockdown left the couple with no work or money, forcing them to walk 500km on foot, back to his village in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
On April 21, Twitter users shared news reports about how, the stonemason and his wife couldn’t find a job after the lockdown. Finding it hard to feed his family and pay rent, they decided to return to Tikmagad village in MP. After walking for four days and hitchhiking on goods trucks, Kushwaha finally reached his village.
The 28-year old is among India’s millions of internal migrant workers who have been forced to undertake long journeys on foot in the last few weeks due to India’s coronavirus lockdown.
Hungry, thirsty and drained, as the couple walked on in a group of thousands, police officers would shout at them to maintain a single file, to maintain distance from each other to avoid spreading the virus. When the journey got too difficult, Kushwaha would think of his first child who is seven. The couple had left him behind in the village with relatives as they went to Delhi to earn a living.
Kushwaha and his five-year-old were featured in a series of photographs published by news agency Reuters and news websites around the world published these photos.
Twitter users have shared these photographs and many such stories to shine a spotlight on the plight of millions of poor Indians who migrate from villages to cities in search of livelihood - and how the lockdown has left them stranded far away from home, with no jobs or money.
Many Indians are asking what the government is doing to protect the country’s poor.
Tagging a lawmaker @rhulh5n12 posted: “Stop blaming others for your shortcomings. Migrant workers, including women & children, r walking home for days all over India. U can't even provide transportation to them but can provide several buses to students of rich parents. Your ‘will ensure’ never becomes ‘have ensured’.”
There are more than 40 million migrant labourers across the country. Most move from villages to work in the cities as domestic helpers, drivers and gardeners, or as daily-wagers on construction sites, building malls, flyovers and homes, or as street vendors.
The Indian government last month said that relief will be provided to poor workers. But, apparently not enough has been done to ensure that relief reaches the right people.
@gupta_bikash: “Many unscrupulous political leaders of various states are mercilessly looting Essential Commodities, dispatched by the government of India for onward distribution among the poor people and migrant workers.”
The International Labour Organization (ILO) said last week that 40 crore (400 million) Indians working in the informal economy risk falling deeper into poverty during the coronavirus lockdowns.