Migrant crisis

I am an artist and filmmaker from Berlin, and have repeatedly travelled to Mumbai over the past 20 years. My work has taken me to all corners of the city, where I have met all kinds of people – and the vast majority were migrants. In his interview Irudaya Rajan downplays the core reasons behind the migrant crisis and misinterprets the wider context in which it is taking place (Interview: ‘Migrant labourers now have an opportunity to punish their employers’). India’s cities are built and run by migrant workers because it is part of a feudal system build around the cheap availability of labour. And that is possible only because India’s rural economy has nothing to offer to the young generation. There are also caste factors that influence migration to cities.

I am not saying Irudaya Rajan is entirely wrong. I believe most of the points he makes are based on profound knowledge, but I think he still narrates it from a very privileged viewpoint, as if the migrants were a class of people who could easily organise themselves.

During the current crisis, they might look like a homogeneous group to the outside observer. But they are unorganised, come from all over India, speak different languages and are in competition with each other. How can they organise themselves? How can they unite? They can’t. Because they are the weakest of the weak.

Look at Udupi restaurants in Bombay for instance: There is a constant supply of new labour from the South, but that happens either through family relations or word-of-mouth. People come and go, but there is no organisation that facilitates this. So even if India is now acknowledging the migrant crisis as a phenomenon, it is not addressing individual problems.

In one part, Rajan says, “Don’t underestimate the migrants’ intelligence. They are risk-takers. They are war heroes in their homes, just that they are fighting poverty.” Don’t underestimate the economic and social pressures they face. If one migrant worker can support a family of eight members back home, his family would probably expect him to go back to the city as soon as the lockdown gets lifted.

I am not saying that I have any better solutions. I must admit that during low-budget trips to India, I too benefitted from this exploitative system. All I am saying is that this interview doesn’t address the core issue, and the solutions it offers are totally unrealistic. In order to address the migrant issues, India would need a complete system change. Indian upper- and middle-classes must acknowledge that they are beneficiaries of the current system, and there should be a discourse on this. This is, of course, a long process. Let’s hope for the best. – Bernd Lützeler


I believe that the lockdown was ordered by the authority to set up medical facilities for testing and tracing of infected people, developing quarantine centres, and offering medical treatment (Centre’s ‘pragmatic’ decisions on air travel stand in sharp contrast to its handling of migrants). In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly compared the pandemic to the war in the epic Mahabharata, and said the disease would be defeated in 21 days.

In case the nation’s preparedness was lagging, migrant labourers should have been allowed to return to their native place during the first and second phases of the lockdown. It was improper to allow them to remain penniless, hungry and sick, weeks after the lockdown was in place. Making arbitrary decisions has so far proved detrimental to economy as well as to human resources. – Rajendra Kulkarni


It is high time we came out with a public demand to prosecute rulers and judges for their overt and covert actions, commissions and omissions that have led to the tragic deaths and untold sufferings of thousands of workers and peasants in the so called “war against the pandemic”. It is these powerful and learned men and women, at the helm of affairs, whose decisions are causing these deaths. How I wish poems and articles on the sufferings, posted on blogs and magazines, had the power to reach the suffering masses. – VN Laxminarayana


I agree with Arundhati Roy that there is something extremely disturbing about the idea of a state being able to imprison an entire people (‘Erasure of the poor from the imagination’: Arundhati Roy on India’s migrant worker crisis). In Japan, the government has not curbed the people’s freedom of movement. It has advised people to stay indoors and wear masks, but cannot punish people for not following these rules. I wish India had such a clause. – Radhika Jha


This is an informative article and the need of the hour (A doctor’s note to his neighbours on everyday Covid-19 precautions: ‘Please do not be complacent’). The fact that a vaccine is likely to take at least a year is crystal clear, though tall claims are heard now and then. There are lot of protocols to be adopted, including extensive human trials, before it is made accessible to the public.

With the shocking rise in the number of cases in the country, it is better that people be made aware of the importance of simple measures like wearing a mask, frequent hand washing, and maintaining minimum prescribed distance to keep the probability of attack at bay. Now that the impact of limited health infrastructure is felt, it is best to rely on simple and cost-effective preventive measures.

Since so many aspects of the virus – its source, mutation patterns, virulence, exact incubation period, effect of temperature and humidity, effective medications – are still uncertain, it is better to treat every individual as an asymptomatic carrier. – Ramana Gove


Miscellaneous comments

The Indian Army’s proposal of a three-year “Tour of Duty” programme illustrates our strategic and financial bankruptcy (Army’s new proposal allows youths to serve for 3 years, cites patriotism and unemployment). Ramifications of such a qualitative degradation will be obvious in a Kargil-like conflict.

There can be nothing farther than the truth that “resurgence of nationalism and patriotism” in the country has motivated the powers that be to examine this proposal. The sole aim of the Army Headquarts is to cut costs by giving a go-by to the combat edge.

To hoodwink the nation, It is being touted that the selection process will remain the same as for regular recruitment. But what about the training and regimentation, which is the bed rock any professional Army?

May I, with a cheek in the mouth, suggest that the Army can do with far fewer senior officers but not the lieutenants? If we want to remain vigilant and contend with our current threats let us modernise and invest in the most cost-effective component of our Army: the Infantry. – Raj Lamin


I expect Scroll.in to provide fact-based reporting and publish stories supported by evidence. Instead, in this article, it has indulged in lazy journalism (BJP’s cynical drive to topple Maharashtra government amidst Covid crisis fits the Amit Shah playbook). You have accused a national party of spreading communal via “its online bot-armies” without any supporting information.

Further, I do not understand why the author has chosen the route of whataboutery: “When criticism is leveled at Modi for his mishandling of many aspects of the Covid-19 crisis, party supporters say that this is unnecessary –and even anti-national. Yet the same kind of criticism directed at Maharashtra is seen to be an act necessary to save the state from collapse.”

Is the author trying to imply that the Bharatiya Janata Party should not criticise the Maharashtra government since it is not doing well in its own states? I strongly believe that the whataboutery must be left to political parties and a news organisations should limit themselves to objective analysis.

Credibility is critical to a news organisation and this kind of journalistic output will severely damage your credibility. I follow Scroll.in for its quality journalism and as a primary source for information, which is why I was disappointed with the article. – Vivek Menon