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UNEQUAL VIRUS

Photos: In locked down India, poor migrants are on a long march back home

A migrant worker carries his son as they walk along a road with others to return to their village
REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Shouldering their own burden.
  • Manavi Kapur
By Manavi Kapur

Culture and lifestyle reporter

A great reverse migration is underway in India.

On March 24, prime minister Narendra Modi urged all Indians to stay at home for three weeks to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The short, four-hour notice for the shutdown, though, effectively trapped the country’s 470 million migrant workers in no man’s land.

The closure of all but essential services has made it impossible for the daily wagers to live in the rented shanties of big cities. Even though finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a Rs1.7 lakh crore ($23 billion) relief package yesterday (March 26), to aid those who live on the margins, panicked labourers are undertaking 500km long journeys on foot in the absence of trains and buses.

This arduous trek back home to their villages now threatens to defeat the very purpose of the ongoing 21-day lockdown.

Contrast this to the several aircraft India flew to rescue its citizens stranded in various countries across the world. From the early flights to China and later to Italy, India’s foreign ministry went above and beyond to rescue Indians abroad.

Not all migrants are equal, as these pictures show.

 

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A migrant worker runs behind a truck as others try to board it to return to their villages.
AP Photo/Ajit Solanki
Ramesh Meena from Rajasthan carries his wife, who fractured her leg, on his shoulder, as they leave for their village from Ahmedabad.
AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
On the outskirts of Delhi, a family is prepared to walk for hundreds of miles to reach their village in Uttar Pradesh.
REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Scores of migrant workers and daily wagers walk back to their villages from Delhi.
REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
In Ghaziabad, where several migrant labourers work on construction sites, a mass migration is underway on foot.
REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Walking for survival in Delhi.
AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
An Indian man carries his children on his shoulders as he along with his family walk along an expressway hoping to reach their home, hundreds of miles away, as the city comes under lockdown in Ghaziabad
REUTERS/Amit Dave
Migrant families walk towards their villages on a highway in Ahmedabad.

Some states, such as Delhi, have announced free community kitchens for those in need. The choice is brutal—to let people die hungry, or risk the spread of an infection that has killed thousands across the world.

Others have had to improvise.

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A migrant worker eats food offered by local residents on a highway in Ghaziabad.
REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A migrant worker feeds his newborn baby as he walks on a highway on the outskirts of Delhi, looking for transport to return to his village.

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