Will Migrant Workers Return To Urban India Post COVID-19?

As migrant workers make their way back home, experts advise how a similar crisis can be prevented in the future

As the lockdown 4.0 comes to an end, there is a possibility of a lockdown 5.0, one of the biggest problems during the lockdown has been the treatment of India's 70 million migrant labourer workforce. As the lockdown restriction eases, we might see a second wave of migration of stranded workers trying to find their way back home, say NGOs and activists who work with them.

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Anindita Adhikari, volunteer at Stranded Workers Action Network spoke to BOOM about the status of migrant workers. She said, "When we asked migrants whether they want to leave or stay after easing of the lockdown; we have seen that only 35% said that they want to leave immediately. We have found that 25% of them have reached home, and there is a small percentage that is in transit. Though there is a gradual opening of industries, we found that 75% of the daily wage workers that we were in touch with said that they were out of work. We are in touch with 35,000 workers, in 10 states"

Priya Deshingkar, Professor of Migration and Development Migrating out of Poverty School of Global Studies, University of Sussex shared her insights about circular migration, and how women are still documented as migrant labourers.

"Circular migration of women is really badly understood. The broader understanding of their migration is that they are moving because of marriage. There's no analysis beyond that. What that hides that many women participate in the workforce after migration. But women are highly active in the labour force, and there are many industries that depend on women's labour like the prawn and seafood industry, textile and garment industry. Some of this is work done at home like if you look at the embroidery industry. Work like this can be performed in the house and they're not visible," said Deshingkar.

Do migrant workers want to come back to the urban settings where they work?

"The people I am in touch are traumatized by the way they were treated but these workers are also rational decision-makers, they know that the rural economy cannot support them. We've started getting calls from people who have gone back to their homes saying that factories have opened up we want to get back to work," said Adhikari to BOOM.

Priya Deshingkar highlights a few action points that can be taken to avert a similar crisis in the future. She says, "One of the most immediate need right now is not to have a bureaucratic response. The need for documents like Aadhar card and other documents for these migrant labourers to get help doesn't translate to immediate help. There is a recent figure that says that in Gujarat out of 2 million, only 7,000 are registered formally. These kinds of issues create blockages. The response needs to be on a humanitarian basis. If people say they need help, they need help. But this is not entirely the fault of bureaucrats. This is also connected to the data issue, and people were scrambling around to know how many migrants need buses, trains, and food."

She adds, "Going forward, one of the first things to do is issue a non-beauracratic response based on need. The next step will to get the data on migrant labourers right. The government can liaison with NGOs that are working industries that migrant labourers work in to get the right data. The voice of migrant labourers themselves is missing as well."

Catch the full interview on YouTube.

Updated On: 2020-11-27T19:31:13+05:30
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