The humanitarian crisis that has followed the lockdown implemented by the Narendra Modi government on March 25 to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is gut-wrenching. Deprived of their daily-wage jobs and without access to food in the cities in which they lived, lakhs of migrant workers are making long, perilous journeys on foot to their villages. Many have died en route.
Meanwhile, drastic amendments to labour laws by several states ostensibly to increase productivity mean that workers will have to put in longer hours with fewer benefits just to earn a living.
The Centre has belatedly rolled out a financial package, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi said would be valued at Rs 20 lakh crore. But it has come too late for many Indians.
India’s cartoonists have responded to the situation with lacerating wit.
Satish Acharya’s cartoon for Sify.com was a wordless comment on the chasm between the relief package and the people it is supposed to reach.
The road to the relief package is paved by sweat and blood, another cartoon by Acharya pointed out.
BBC Hindi News cartoonist Kirtish Bhatt made the same point, this time with text: “One by one, the many zeroes in 20 lakh crore will eventually reach us,” says a villager.
Here is Satish Acharya again, contrasting the video of the sleepy boy being dragged by his mother on a strolley with the lockdown in one cartoon and with the very expensive bullet train project in another.
One of the reasons migrant workers are fleeing cities is because they haven’t been paid the wages due to them.
In his cartoon for Mumbai Mirror, Hemant Morparia remarked on the apathy of urban India to the plight of hungry migrants trudging home.
Nirmala Sitharaman’s pronouncements while announcing the relief measures came in for a sharp comment by The Indian Express cartoonist EP Unny.
In his cartoon for Mid-Day, Manjul looked at the Centre’s flagging attempts to revive the economy.
Manjul had previously produced for Firstpost a scathing comment on the Prime Minister’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” slogan, which aims to Make India Self-Reliant (Again).
Mumbai Mirror’s Morparia made a literary reference to the concept of self-reliance.
What comes first, the economy or health?
The sweeping changes in labour laws, which critics have termed as exploitative and a negation of hard-earned workers’ rights, inspired this comment from Kirtish Bhatt for BBC News Hindi: a worker from the unorganised sector who has never heard of regulations is saddened when he is told about the “new normal” that awaits him.
For Firstpost, Manjul juxtaposed the labour directives with the Shramik trains being organised for migrant labourers – a step that several commentators have termed too little and too late.
Here is another link drawn between trains and the labour laws, by Times of India cartoonist Sandeep Adhwaryu.
EP Unny made a reference to Charlie Chaplin’s classic movie Modern Times, a satire on capitalism and the exploitation of factory workers.
Indians will have to learn to live with the coronavirus, they have been told, but it depends on how that living is defined, Sajith Kumar said in Deccan Herald.
Another searing photograph, of a migrant barely managing to hold on to his child as he clambered onto a truck that would take him home, inspired this cartoon by Sajith Kumar in Deccan Herald.
What a year it has been – and we have not even reached the halfway mark.
Respond to this article with a post
Share your perspective on this article with a post on ScrollStack, and send it to your followers.