A photo of the 12-year-old migrant worker who died
A photo of the 12-year-old migrant worker who died Image Credit: Twitter

She was just 12, the only child of her parents. Extreme poverty had pushed the minor to work as a daily wage earner in the Indian state of Telengana. On April 18 young Jamalo Madkam died, after she had lost her job amid India’s COVID-19 lockdown.

Realising that the extensions of the lockdown meant no job, more days without food, she and a group of 12 other migrant workers decided to return home on foot, to the Indian state of Chattisgarh from Telangana where they worked. For Madkam, the 100km journey ended in death due to electrolyte imbalance and exhaustion, barely 11 km from home.

The state of India’s poor internal migrant workers amid the lockdown has been highlighted several times by Indian tweeps. Those who shared the news said it was “heartbreaking”.

Tweep @gladwinemmanuel posted: “A girl aged 12, on her way home from Telangana, 'walks 100 km.' She ends up in a morgue. Jobless workers walk, travel by trucks, or hitch-hike… Who knows how many make it? What more sufferings wait to unfold when power kiss-&-betray the powerless?”

@umarsherif12 said: “The plight of poor continue to worsen in India amid the #nationwidelockdown

Madkam was the only child of Andoram (32) and Sukamati Madkam (30), who barely survive on the forest produce they collect.

According to a report in Indian Express, she had left her home for the first time two months ago to work at a chilli farm in Telangana along with some of her relatives and friends. Apparently, many among Chhattisgarh’s tribal population go every year to farms in Telangana to earn money picking chillies.

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Her father, Andoram, said he last heard that Madkam had left Peruru village in Telangana, where she worked, on April 16 with a group of 13 - three children and eight women. “They decided to come back after realising that the lockdown had got extended and they would not get any work," he said, according to local news reports.

The group reached the border of Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh, when the young girl passed away. The group could not inform the family as only one among them had a phone whose battery had died.

Finally, when the group reached Bhandarpal village in Bijapur district, they managed to call her parents.

Reportedly, the Medical Officer of Bijapur district, Dr B R Pujari said that when they got the news, they immediately rushed over to check if she had been affected by the COVID-19 too.

Chhattisgarh currently has 36 positive cases, anyone arriving from outside the state is being sent to quarantine. In Telangana, 872 positive cases have been reported.

“Since Telangana had cases, we immediately sent our teams, but we couldn’t find them,” said Dr Pujari.

The medical team finally managed to catch up with the group on the outskirts of Bhandarpal village. After taking the COVID-19 test, Jamalo’s body was taken to a morgue, the group was sent into a quarantine facility.

On Sunday evening, Andoram and Sukamati arrived to take their daughter’s body.

According to the doctor: “The girl is suspected to have died due to electrolyte imbalance and exhaustion, as the group had been walking three days. They walked through forests, and at one place, she also took a fall.”

The day after she died, Madkam's test results for coronavirus came. She was negative.

Millions of migrants in India are taking up long journeys on foot due to loss of jobs and lack of a safe shelter, or money to buy food or medicine.

According to a report on indiatoday.in, 46-year-old worker Jadav Gogoi from India’s state of Assam, set out on a 2,800 km journey from Vapi in Gujarat on March 27 and reached Assam’s Nagaon district on April 19, after hitchhiking and walking for about 25 days. He left Gujarat with just Rs4,000 (dh191) in his pocket. Gogoi, has been admitted to Nagaon civil hospital, to be kept under quarantine.

Tweep @barkhad also posted a similar news update about another migrant worker who started walking from Delhi to his home Begusarai, but after walking around 850km he fell in Varanasi, where even the medical staff refused to touch him, fearing that he might have contracted the virus.

An early April report by the The International Labour Organization (ILO) said that 40 crore (400 million) Indians working in the informal economy risk falling deeper into poverty during the coronavirus lockdowns.