OUR LOCKDOWN IS NOT THEIR LOCKDOWN
Why are migrants risking their lives and leaving cities? If they get food and have a roof over them, why don’t they stay put and adhere to the lockdown? This is a question that many people in my circle are asking. So, I thought I might throw some light on the condition of migrants in Mumbai from what I have seen while working on relief as part of Khana Chahiye. This is based on what I have seen on the ground in the past one and half months in various slums across the country and in my interactions (including recorded interviews) with migrants walking home in the past week.
- Hunger – When we (educated middle class) and them (migrants, daily wage earners, and homeless) say hunger, we mean very different things. For us, hunger is when we are hungry. For them, hunger is about not knowing when the next meal is or worse, knowing that there is not going to be a “next” meal. So when we say, “If they get food”, that is a big if. Because it is not just about providing food today but everyday till this crisis is over. Which between no one is sure of.
- Dignity – One sentence that we have heard on the roads repeatedly in the past week is, “Hum kitne din tak, kisi aur ke reham par khaate rahenge?” (How long will we sustain on someone else’s charity?). The migrants getting out of cities now are actually the better-off ones because they had someone to support them for one and a half months. The ones who were the worst affected fled long back because they didn’t even have that support. But how long can one survive on someone’s charity, especially when you are someone who had never had a free lunch before the lockdown, not even when you deserved it. In their villages, if not anything, they have small pieces of land that can give them something to sustain on without depending on someone else.