Locking Down Two Different Indias

The Hindu|March 31, 2020

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Locking Down Two Different Indias
While some can practise social distancing, most Indians simply cannot as they have no social security
Nikhil Dey & Aruna Roy

What could possibly have been the reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to give only a four-hour notice for the lockdown? If the requirement was to keep the population indoors, strictly enforcing social distancing, how abjectly this has failed! Lakhs of migrant labourers have been jostling to get any form of transport back home; walking and sleeping in the heat and rain, in the open, through day and night, dodging the police and sometimes even hiding under tarpaulin in trucks. Almost as many have died undertaking this inhumane journey as people have lost their lives due to COVID-19 so far. What answers does Mr. Modi have for them? This is the largest manually induced distress migration in independent India. Tragically, it could have been handled much better.

Decision without planning

COVID-19 is a disaster that came with prior warning, and therefore did not warrant an arbitrary, unplanned and ill-prepared decision. The Prime Minister’s 8 p.m. top-down lockdown announcement was not accompanied by practical and necessary relief measures. It brought uncertainty, confusion, and insecurity to an unprepared people. The announcement was rapidly followed by suspension of all public transportation — again with practically no notice. A unilateral lockdown order, keeping millions of migrant labourers in suspended animation, was bound to fail. With doomsday predictions and no work, and no guarantee from the government, migrant labourers logically sought the security of their distant homes, like all of us have. They decided to travel any way they could, including by foot, to go home. Policymakers and the ruling elite have no clue about the lives of the unorganised workforce.

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March 31, 2020