On April 14, groups of migrant workers, including women workers and their children, who were stranded in Hyderabad attempted to walk towards their villages located hundreds and thousands of kms away in various states. Many of them say that they are left with no option than risking their lives to reach homes as they are deprived of food, money and essential supplies and are worried over the extension of lockdown for another 19 days due to COVID-19 containment efforts by the government. The state police, however, stopped their journeys and have transported them back to the shelters they were staying in.
Although the state government on March 29 announced that the migrants will be provided with 12 kg rice and Rs 500 per person during lockdown, many complain that the aid has not reached them. On top of it, many workers with no money in hand are worried over paying rents while many others are worried over health conditions in highly crowded temporary shelter homes arranged by their employers and the government officials.
According to the government’s preliminary estimations, there are about 3.5 lakh migrant workers in Telangana from various states including Odhisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. While 63% of them are individual migrants, the remaining have migrated along with families.
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Telugu daily Eenadu reported that nearly 1,500 migrant workers are staying in shelter homes located in the outskirts of Hyderabad’s industrial area Nanakramguda. “No health check ups are conducted on any of us. We are worried if coronavirus is spreading among us,” said Rajesh Sahani, a migrant worker from Bihar located in Nanakramguda to Eenadu.
According to media reports, groups of migrant workers along with their families who began heading to their states on foot were stopped by the state police at various check-posts in Hyderabad and were convinced to stay back. The workers have been demanding the officials to arrange transport facilities for them to reach their native places. But, social activists argue that the workers are worried over their families in their native places and are uncertain over their futures due to the lockdown and COVID-19 pandemic.
“Migrant workers are enduring dire living conditions in both rural and urban areas. There are numerous cases where many employers and contractors of brick kilns and construction projects have not paid salaries to the workers and are absconding,” said Ravi Kanneganti of Rythu Swarajya Vedika to NewsClick. Ravi is currently part of a network of volunteers who are providing relief aid to migrant workers and poorer sections of people in the Telugu states through a helpline number. He said that the volunteers are coordinating with the government and NGOs to provide food and essential supplies to the stranded migrant population who reach them through the helpline.
Reportedly, on Monday, a 24-year-old migrant worker, Mohammad Amir, committed suicide by hangling himself from ceiling in his rented room in Hyderabad’s Uppal. He was allegedly depressed over not being able to go home due to lockdown.
On April 12, several civil society organisations under the banner ‘Covid-19 Advocacy Lockdown Collective’ have written to the Chief Minister to provide one time financial support to all migrant workers and unregistered workers in the state and demanded that the government ensures the workers that they will receive their unpaid salaries.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has revealed the plight of the migrant workers in the country and exposed the government’s apathy towards the massive groups of working class in the unorganised sectors across the country.
Also read: Lockdown Extension: Thousands of Migrants in Bandra, Mumbra, Surat Scramble to Get Back Home