“Hunger and unemployment will kill us, if not the coronavirus” – this one sentence echoed throughout the past 3 months of India’s fight against the pandemic as migrants were left out of the fold of care by the government. The helplessness of not finding a way out was reflected in a recent incident in which Sikandar Yadav (32), a migrant, died by suicide at his hometown in Bihar after hanging himself from a tree near an unused college building in Bihar’s Mednipur village, The Telegraph Online reported.
Sikandar had returned to Bihar from Delhi, where he worked as a machine operator in a jeans factory. The lockdown had cost him his job and he had endured a 1,000 km journey some of it on foot and some through truck rides to get back home. What kept him going was the hope of finding some job in his village which would help him and his family get by. However, his hope had slowly started ebbing during the 14-day institutional quarantine where there was poor food and accommodation. However, what probably kept his hopes up was that he would find a job soon, but his luck cheated him there too, The Telegraph Online reported.
Sikandar, who was unmarried, lived with his mother, elder brother and the elder brother’s wife and children. Out of the eight members, only 3 had ration cards. They shared the house with another brother and didn’t own any land. Sikandar’s brothers who worked as day labourers had also lost their jobs during the lockdown
Sikandar’s uncle Akshay Lal Yadav said that Sikandar probably lost out as he wasn’t used to doing hard labour. However, there are many like Sikandar whose hopes are hanging by a thread.
Munna Sheikh, who left Bihar to work in Mumbai, had to return home during the lockdown. Speaking to Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), he said, “Currently I am under home quarantine. The situation here is the same as it is in Mumbai. In Mumbai at least there were people who distributed food, fruits, rations to us, but here we have to survive on our own,” says Shaikh wondering if he did the right thing by leaving Mumbai. “The Sarpanch is saying we haven’t got anything yet from the government so how can we help you?”
Another migrant, Ganesh Yadav told CJP that he didn’t own farmland and that he couldn’t rely on relatives for the rest of the lockdown. A cook, Yadav didn’t know if he would get a job in Patna or would have to return to Mumbai to earn and ensure the safety of his family.
Speaking to NDTV, a migrant from a quarantine centre in Bihar’s Sonepur blamed the CM for not providing enough jobs in the state due to which people had to look for jobs outside. Another migrant who was on his back to Surat where he was working before the lockdown told NDTV that not everyone got jobs through MNREGA. He said, “We looked for alternatives but realized options are limited – either die from hunger or coronavirus”.
The Telegraph Online reported that Sikandar’s suicide came nine days after PM Modi launched the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana for 6 states from Bihar, a NGREGA like scheme, to provide employment to an estimated 67 lakh returned migrants.
The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar had announced that it had undertaken the skill mapping of at least 16 lakh migrants and found that out of these 8.40 lakh have been identified as construction workers, 57,000 tailors, 41,000 carpenters, 4,000 food processing workers and 1,400 handicraft workers among others. Though the government has said that people would receive job alerts on their mobile phones, it is unclear whether jobs have been made available or when the recruitment process will start, The Telegraph Online reported. It also said that the NDA government in Bihar claimed that two lakh people were given new NREGA job cards, but reports say that those having job cards also find it difficult to find a job.
Down to Earth had reported that the PM’s announcement of the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana from Bihar was nothing but a poll tactic. As per the scheme, migrant workers are set to get one-time employment for 125 days, but it does nothing for those already unemployed. If one does the math, the scheme, being started at a cost of Rs. 50 crore will only get each migrant Rs. 76.
Not just this, the extension of the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana scheme extended till November 2020 also arouses suspicion. The extension is till the end of November, which is also the peak of the Hindu festive season with Diwali, and Chhath Puja. The Chhath Puja is celebrated six days after Diwali with great fervour in Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh, and also in states where people of Bihari origin live. This year the Chhath Puja is said to be on November 20. Coincidentally, the Bihar elections may also be held by late October-Early November, as the current state government’s term ends on November 29, Sabrang India had reported.
Many have said these announcements by the PM are only to placate the anger of the migrants and woo them for the Bihar elections. The mention of Chhath Puja, which is widely celebrated by the people of Bihar across the country is the first indicator. The announcement of the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana and the announcement of the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana from Bihar are other indicators. The issue of migrant employment, which he takes up with the ‘One Nation. One Ration Card Scheme’, is the next indicator. To amplify this message, the BJP IT cell has appointed 9,500 IT cell heads at each Shakti Kendra in Bihar and formed more than 72,000 WhatsApp groups to inform voters about the initiatives of the party, The Print reported.
With these trump cards in hand and the digital infrastructure to boot, will the NDA woo the migrants who are running back to the cities to work at a lower pay as there are no jobs at home?