Video by Indian journalist, Salman Ravi, went viral
Video by Indian journalist, Salman Ravi, went viral Image Credit: Twitter/BBC Hindi

Hungry and exhausted, tens of thousands of Indian migrant workers are walking on India’s roads. Many walk barefoot, others carry little children on their shoulders over hundreds of kilometers, as they try to reach their villages after losing their jobs in the COVID-19 lockdown. Viral Twitter videos this week, showed many of these labourers asking the Indian government why they turned a blind eye, towards the plight of millions of poor labourers in the country.

This weekend, one such viral video by Indian journalist Salman Ravi, for BBC Hindi, showed a migrant worker crying as he describes his situation.

“He (Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi) can sit comfortably and ask for people to fetch things for himself, who will fetch things for us?” the poor worker asked.

Adding that no one cares for the poor, the man said: “He (Modi) should have thought of us poor, before making the decision. What will happen to us? We will die, we are walking with little children. We are in a very difficult situation.”

The group were, apparently, walking from Ambala in Haryana to their village in Madhya Pradesh, a distance of 600kms.

After the video went viral, members of the Opposition party, Indian National Congress, searched the group out and helped them get on a bus to their village.

Opposition party comes to the rescue

Journalist @scribe_prashant tweeted: “Positive news: Remember this man crying inconsolably while walking down to his home with family and kids? After the painful video went viral, the family was searched out by Congress workers, and with help of @priyankagandhi, they have now been sent on a bus to their homes!”

In a follow-up video, the man is seen thanking Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, for helping the group with transport and food. The video saw praise and appreciation for the politician who recently wrote a letter to the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, seeking permission for 1000 buses to ferry stranded migrants, the party arranged for 500 buses to take migrants from Rajasthan’s Alwar and Bharatpur to other parts of the country.

“Lakhs of workers are trying to get back to their homes while walking from various parts of the country and there are not enough arrangements made for them. We wish to operate 500 buses each from Ghazipur and Noida borders,” Priyanka Gandhi wrote in her letter to Yogi Adityanath.

However, according to a report on news website, permission from the Bharatiya Janata Party government has not been granted yet.

Tweeps praise Ravi

Ravi’s video also shows another migrant worker, who broke his slippers and continued his journey barefoot. The journalist offered his footwear to the poor worker.

Praising Ravi’s gesture, like many others, tweep @MuhammadLila posted: “This BBC reporter was interviewing a family of migrant workers. They'd been walking for days just to get home. During the interview, he saw the man had no shoes. So he took off his own — and gave them to him.”

Another tweep, @radhikaR replied: “Thank you for helping by donating your shoes, hundreds of them are walking barefoot, that too in this heat. How can we all help?”

Journalists trolled for reporting

However, many right-wing supporters of the ruling party have taken to Twitter to criticise journalists who have taken to the roads to report about the situation. From questions like “why are you not helping these poor people, instead of making videos,” to “you are giving a bad name to the country,” trolls seem to be openly asking journalists, why they are reporting about the poor situation.

To this, an Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer @Somesh_IAS replied: “Ridiculous to blame the journalists who are reporting the migrant crisis on highways. That 'is' their job! They did not create the crisis. They are merely showing that the problem exists, even at the risk of contracting the disease.”

Hashtag #StopTorturingMigrantLabourers

Tweeps are also angry that many of these migrant workers and the country’s poor face police brutality amid these difficult times.

Tagging the country’s PM and Home Minister, @Lkashwaani tweeted: “Could the centre please guide the police to not beat the migrant workers mercilessly who are still on their way to homes on foot. @PMOIndia @narendramodi @AmitShah #MigrantsOnTheRoad #MigrantWorkers”

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And, @A_Bloody_comman tweeted: “Going back home is the right of every human on the planet. Who are you @narendramodi and the police to stop migrant workers? When you can't provide you shouldn't behave like a dictator. Ask Police not to beat migrants, stop torturing migrant labourers. #StopTorturingMigrantLabourers”

Journalist @rohini_sgh posted: “That video of the 12-year-old boy crying because he was thrashed by cops for selling bananas is just so painful. How brutal do you have to be to beat a child mercilessly? What could a 12 year old have possibly done to invite this brutality?

Meanwhile, the country’s ex-Finance minister @YashwantSinha took to Twitter to ask why the Supreme Court of the country was displaying a callous attitude to the situation. He tweeted: “Earlier the Supreme Court had abdicated its responsibilities. Now it has become callous. 'What can we do if they are walking on the road; what can we do if they sleep on railway tracks'. God save India.”

Meanwhile, criticising the current Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's announcement on space exploration amid the nationwide migrant crisis, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh @Jairam_Ramesh posted: “When migrants can't reach home safely, Finance Minister is talking of opening up planetary exploration and outer space travel to private sector. BIZARRE!”

The announcement had come as a part of the press conference to unveil the fourth tranche of the centre's Rs20 lakh crore (Dh973 billion) coronavirus stimulus.

India’s lockdown is gradually easing, but, the relief that was announced to the poor workers in March when the lockdown was announced, still has not reached most of them.