NEW DELHI — In one of the biggest migrations in India’s modern history, hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers have begun long journeys on foot to get home, having been rendered homeless and jobless by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationwide lock-down to contain the spread of the coronavirus. With businesses shut down in cities across the country, vast numbers of migrants — many of whom lived and ate where they worked — were suddenly without food and shelter. Soup kitchens in Delhi, the capital, have been overwhelmed.
Thousands of migrants in Delhi, including whole families, packed their pots, pans and blankets into rucksacks, some balancing children on their shoulders as they walked along interstate highways. Some planned to walk hundreds of miles. But as they reached the Delhi border, many were beaten back by the police. “You fear the disease, living on the streets. But I fear hunger more, not corona,” said Papu, 32, who came to Delhi three weeks ago for work and was now trying to return to his home in Saharanpur in the state of Uttar Pradesh, 125 miles away. – NY Times
India sent buses to the outskirts of its capital city Saturday to take thousands of migrant workers back to their villages during the largest coronavirus lockdown. The exodus from New Delhi started Wednesday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a three-week full lock-down, according to the Associated Press. Modi took the extreme measure to stem the spread of the coronavirus amid growing fears that India could become the next global hotspot because of the millions of residents who live in cramped conditions without access to clean water. So far, India has reported the number of confirmed cases at 775; the death toll stands at 19. The lockdown has left many of the migrant workers jobless and scared they won’t be able to afford food or other essentials, according to the AP.
Indian’s finance ministry has passed a $22.5 billion economic stimulus package, which includes the distribution of enough grains and lentil rations for three months to 800 million people, but the most vulnerable decided they didn’t want to get stuck in the sprawling metropolises. “How can we eat if we don’t earn?” Ram Bhajan Nisar, a painter, told the AP. Nisar, his wife and their two children were walking and hitchhiking much of the 400 miles from New Delhi to Gorakhpur, a village on the border with Nepal. The government sent enough buses, public and private, to carry as many as 52,000 passengers. –NY Post
Migrant workers sprayed with disinfectant: Indian health workers caused outrage on Monday by spraying a group of migrants with disinfectant, amid fears that a large-scale movement of people from cities to the countryside risked spreading the coronavirus. Footage showed a group of migrant workers sitting on a street in Bareilly, a district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, as health officials in protective suits used hose pipes to douse them in disinfectant, prompting anger on social media. Nitish Kumar, the top government official in the district, said health workers had been ordered to disinfect buses being used by the local authorities but in their zeal had also turned their hoses on migrant workers.
“I have asked for action to be taken against those responsible for this,” he said in a tweet. India imposed a nationwide lock-down on March 25, with thousands of laborers subsequently fleeing cities for their home villages after work – and public transport – vanished. India has registered more than a thousand cases of the new coronavirus, of whom 29 have died, the Health Ministry said on Monday. Health officials say India is weeks away from a surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. –The Star