Newspapers, TV and social media are full of stories of the plight of migrant workers stranded in various parts of India.
Deaths of workers on the highways and railway tracks because of accidents and hunger have become daily news. Media also carry stories of exploitation of these workers by private truck drivers who ferry them to their home towns. Some social workers distribute food packets to them more for publicity than expressing compassion.
Pressure from various quarters has forced the government to arrange trains for these workers to go home. But they have to pay for the tickets. The Congress party had offered to pay the workers’ travel expenses but the government declined it. Why didn’t the government pay for their tickets from the PM CARES fund created for managing Covid-19 crisis?
All government ‘servants,’ including the President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament and state legislatures, Judges, and others enjoy high salary and other benefits.
However, India’s 487 million workers in the unorganized sector, who build the country’s economy with their sweat and blood, take no special benefits from the government or their employers. They just get the wages. Neither the government nor the rich who employed them are least bothered paying them insurance, medical assistance or provident fund.
Now when they are without work for their daily living, the employers and the government have left them to die. This is against the Indian Constitution.
We are proud of our Republic and the great Constitution based on the universal values. We consider the Constitution as the sacred scripture of all. From the President of India to the lower level government officials and ministers in the government take oath to serve the people of India and safeguard the Constitution. In reality they violate it in letter and spirit at every moment.
The Preamble of Indian Constitution resolves to secure social, economic and political Justice, Liberty and Equality to all citizens. It further commits to “promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual.
So, the millions of stranded migrant workers deserve justice. Do our leaders who preach people’s welfare or the bureaucrats who make policies and manage crises are conscious of their constitutional dharma in these days? If they are, how could they allow millions of citizens of Indian republic suffer hunger, humiliation from the police and exploitation from their employers?
Our workers deserve right to food, transport facilities for safe and comfortable travel to their homes, dignified behaviour by police and government servants. By not providing them these requirements the government and their employers have done injustice and committed a serious crime.
The dignity of all workers, their women and children has been violated. This is betrayal of the Constitution we uphold; and the violation of the sovereignty of the Republic and its people.
Even in normal situation, our poor workers would not ask for charity. They have never received even the benefits they deserved either from the government or from their employers. Now when they have no means to earn their livelihood, it is the duty of the government to provide them their rights, ensure their dignity and freedom.
These poor workers do not demand charity but justice that the Constitution guarantees.
When the policy makers and experts plan to revive the country’s economy after Covid-19 it is important to prepare strategies on the basis of universal values enshrined in the Indian Constitution. It is important to make sure that we do not betray the sovereignty of our Republic and surrender it to market forces within the country and outside.
If we want to safeguard the soul of India as declared in the Preamble of the Constitution, we need to adopt the criterion that Mahatma Gandhi has given in all our policies and decision making.
The government has to do penance for the sins it has committed to the millions of poor by denying them equality, dignity and justice as guaranteed by the Constitution:
1. Let the government give one month salary, reimburse the travel expense and medical facility to all migrant workers who have gone home. Provide free travel for those who want to go back to their old places for work.
2. Provide 10 million rupees to the family members of all workers who died on the roads and railway tracks. Justice demands this penance from the government for being insensitive and neglecting its duty.
3. Register all workers in the unorganised sector both in the rural areas and cities to benefit all government facilities. Strict action should be taken against employers who violate these norms.