- We watch unshaken and unmoved videos of a migrants eating a dog on the highway tortured by hunger beyond belief.
- We watch as migrants denied dignity in life are denied even humanity in death as after being mowed down by a vehicle, their remains are hurriedly swept up into giant black garbage bags.
What do you write when you run out of words?
When a tragedy becomes so searing that you shut down how you process horror and grief?
How do we lose our humanity?
Is it when we collectively mute a tragedy? The migrants’ exodus is comparable to the partition of India.
I am a comparatively young Indian in a country, which is millenniums old. I did not bear witness to the partition of India in 1947 nor the emergency imposed in 1975. Yet, I now believe that we are a complicit people.
We watch unshaken and unmoved videos of a migrants eating a dog on the highway tortured by hunger beyond belief. We watch as migrants denied dignity in life are denied even humanity in death as after being mowed down by a vehicle, their remains are hurriedly swept up into giant black garbage bags.
There is a lot to unpick here. Things to note. Let me venture a prophesy. India’s handling of the migrants exodus will be one of the cautionary tales when history takes a view of the virulent coronavirus pandemic.
A democracy with no humanity?
India, the world’s largest democracy, as we never tire of describing ourselves, sat back perhaps in the yogic lotus position and did absolutely nothing as thousands of citizens started walking the highways in a bid to go to an elusive home. They don’t have food and water, things that most of us are guaranteed in our lovely homes with balconies where we collectively bang thalis to make the virus go away.
Despite the harshest lockdown in the world imposed at four hours’ notice, the virus did not go away, the poor people, our hostages to fortune, did. Some perspective my dear readers. The coronavirus came to India via international flights. India was not shutdown when United States President Donald Trump came calling on a state visit on February 24. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took him on a triumphant visit to home state Gujarat and guaranteed a humongous crowd of millions of people.
Yet those of us who had homes could still quarantine safely. The poor could not. And they paid the price. The leaders of our democracy are so out of touch, so defeated by the idea of Modi that they did not even put up a feeble fight for the people in whose name they commandeer power and privilege.
One more perspective. Most of the migrants come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Yet, we did not hear from our regional Uttar Pradesh powerhouses: Mayawati, chief of the Bahujan Samaj Party, and Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party. One saw some desultory outreach by the Congress party represented by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi - nothing that would make Modi and Amit Shah even break a sweat.
The worst villain for the migrants is Nitish Kumar, Bihar chief minister, the man with the most bendy conscience in the universe, who is in such thrall to his ally, the BJP, that he refused to even acknowledge the crisis. And such is the state of the Opposition in Bihar that he was allowed to get away with it.
Final perspective. The elections in Bihar will be held this year.
Read more from Swati Chaturvedi
- Mamata or Vijayan, mass leaders show the way in coronavirus fight in India
- COVID-19: Government gave no thought to consequences of lockdown in India, Chidambaram says
- COVID-19 India lockdown: So what if you give birth on roads and die on rail tracks, dear migrant workers? We are blind.
- Irrfan Khan, Rishi Kapoor: India’s tears spoke of the unity that once was
So how does it stack up in the world’s largest democracy?
Our leaders’ response to the desperately needy migrants was AWOL. And the natural corollary to that is a government that simply does not care.
PS: Did I mention treating the dead as road-kill?
PPS: Don’t look away.