After about two months of hardships and hundreds of kms of journey on foot, migrant workers of UP have started reaching hometown from across India. They had hoped the life would be at much peace and ease henceforth. However, that’s not the case for many. Apart from social stigma related to Covid, the centuries-old caste system has come to haunt them.
Dinesh Kumar, a native of Jaunpur district in eastern UP, says, “We have been put up at a quarantine centre in a school at our village. As soon as we come out of the campus to get some fresh air and have a glimpse of our family from a distance, villagers abuse and accuse us to attempting to spread the disease although I have tested negative for Covid-19.”
Fear and stigma associated with the Covid are haunting the migrants mainly because most have returned from states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Telangana and Gujarat which are battling with a large number of virus cases.
“People suspect we are carrying infection and can shed virus even from long distance,” says Rajkumar Verma, who was selling snacks in Ahmadabad and has returned Mirzapur village on foot last week.
Over seven lakh migrant workers have returned to UP, CM Yogi Adityanath claimed last week. The numbers would have gone up by now as 50-70 trains are now reaching daily to the state.
since a couple of days compared to a few in the first week of May when Railway started playing trains for the first time after enforcement of the national lockdown 24 March.
Scores of people are still walking on foot. Most of them belong to underprivileged communities and the coronavirus lockdown had made them poorer, weaker and more vulnerable.
While many of them have bene quarantined for 14 days at schools and other designated centres in their district to avoid spread of the disease, many are advised home quarantine due to shortage of space. Their miseries are no less.
In some areas, villagers keep a strict vigil on returnees and threaten to thrash them when they venture out.
Apart from corona, caste-based discrimination, abolished by the law seven decades ago, has come up in a new form in the rural Uttar Pradesh.
“We can’t even stand on our roof or outside the door. People from upper caste bully us,” says Meenadevi (name changed), a resident of Jhansi district who recently returned from Maharashtra.
Unfortunately, most migrant labourers belong to underprivileged communities or children of poor landless farmers with no social power in the village.
Social scientist Abdul Shaban, professor of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, says, “The metro cities play a leveller for migrant labourers who come from reserved communities. In Mumbai, Delhi or Hyderabad, they are identified as workers from UP, Bihar, Odisha etc. Villages back home are in stark contrast. In the pandemic times, these people will face double discrimination.”
“Villages in eastern UP and Bihar have a very strong caste structure. Since 75 percent migrant workers, unskilled and semi-skilled both, belong to Dalit and backward communities, they find themselves at receiving end now,” says Ravi Mishra, president of UP wing of Centre of Trade Unions (CITU).
He says the tussle will go up as more and more people are walking home or coming by trains leading to space and resource crunch everywhere. fs