The migrant worker as a ghost among citizens -Sampath G

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published Published on Nov 25, 2020   modified Modified on Nov 25, 2020

-The Hindu

A new publication contends that their lockdown misery was no anomaly but an effect of exclusion from full citizenship

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the world’s most stringent lockdown on March 24, 2020 with barely four hours notice, lakhs of migrant workers across the country found themselves trapped in a novel situation: their livelihood in the city was gone, but they could not return to their native villages. The lockdown offered them only two options: starvation or charity. It was merely a matter of time before they pursued the third option: an arduous walk to their homes hundreds of kilometres away, risking starvation and death. Many did die in transit.

India is not the only country to have witnessed lockdown-related governance failures. But it stands alone for the sheer magnitude of the humanitarian tragedy unleashed by a poorly conceived lockdown. It was as if the nation’s top decision makers had no idea that migrant workers existed. Perhaps this is not as far-fetched as it may seem. If we assume that a government makes policies keeping in mind the interests of its citizens, then the question to ask would be: are migrant workers in India full citizens? Or are they half-citizens at best, tolerated only because cities and industries need cheap labour?

A new publication, Citizens and the Sovereign: Stories from the Largest Human Exodus in Contemporary Indian History, brought out by Migrant Workers Solidarity Network (MWSN), a collective of workers’ groups and non-governmental organisations, explores these questions through the personal experiences of migrant workers. It contends that the avoidable misery they endured during the lockdown was not an anomaly but an effect of their implicit exclusion from full citizenship.

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The Hindu, 25 November, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-migrant-worker-as-a-ghost-among-citizens/article33172202.ece?homepage=true


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