On 14th April more than 2000 workers gathered near Bandra railway station in Mumbai, demanding trains to go home. In the condition of lockdown wherein social- distancing has been mandated by the Central government and various local authorities, this was a considered to be a “major crime” for which the workers were lathi charged. Some were even taken in police custody. The capitalist mass media attacked them viciously as “anti-social” people. However, many workers’ organizations and democratic organizations, as well as many journalists defended the right of these workers to return to their homes.
There have been many reports of tens of thousands of workers walking towards their home towns or villages, hundreds of kilometers away from their places of work. More than twenty of them died on the way due to hunger and fatigue. There have been reports that government machinery is using various means to prevent them from this travelling back home.
These incidents only highlight the desperation crores of daily-wage workers are facing due to the suddenly clamped lock-down across the country. After the suddenly announced lock-down, they lost their meagre source of livelihood. Whatever small savings they had evaporated within a few days. Hence, they are desperate to return to the safety of their homes. They are also afraid of catching infection in their present place of stay or in camps where many have been housed.
Neither the Central government nor the State governments are arranging safe transport for these crores of workers. Governments argue that these workers could carry the infection to villages where it would be impossible to take care of infected people. For this reason, they are saying that they must continue to stay where they are. However, arrangements could have been made to transport stranded workers to their home towns after testing each one of them for the virus so that no infection is carried to villages by returning workers.
The actual reason for Central and State governments not wanting daily-wage workers to return to their homes is that capitalists want them to be readily available when economic activity starts once again. They are afraid that once workers are allowed to go home, they will not return for many months due to the fear of the virus. They also fear that the bitter experience of not being allowed to return to their homes and families and left without any support hundreds of miles away from their families may also discourage many of them to return to the city. This will come in the way of resuming factory and business operations immediately on lifting of the lock-down as their operations are heavily dependent on these workers employed in large numbers, as casual or contract workers. It is for this reason that Central government and various State governments are not organizing any help for migrant workers to return home, and at times even brutally discouraging them from doing so.
It is not at all acceptable that the Central and State governments must give priority to the interests of capitalists over protecting the right of workers to return to their homes. The situation demands that the government immediately organizes help for those migrant and other stranded workers who want to return home and organize safe transport for them, It is also necessary that until such arrangements are made, adequate supply of food and other necessities at their current place of stay is arranged.