A video of a child trying to wake up his dead mother at the Muzaffarpur railway station in Bihar was widely shared on social media on Wednesday. This is the latest visual to emerge from the unprecedented humanitarian crisis of millions of migrant labourers affected by the nationwide lockdown to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in India.
The video shows the toddler playing with the cloth covering his mother’s body on Monday as announcements of train arrivals and departures continue in the background. The woman died of extreme heat, hunger and dehydration, according to NDTV. She arrived in Bihar from Gujarat in a special train to transport migrant workers. Her family told the television channel that she had been unwell on the train due to lack of food and water.
The woman collapsed shortly before the train reached Muzaffarpur station on Monday. Her body was then laid out on the station platform and her child was seen trying to wake her up.
At the same station, a two-year-old child also reportedly died due to shortage of food and the severe heatwave lashing most of northern India.
Gaurav Pandhi, national coordinator of the Congress’ social media operations, blamed Railway Minister Piyush Goyal for the deaths. “The child is trying to wake up the mother who died of hunger and dehydration in the train,” he said in a tweet. “These visuals are of Muzaffarpur station in Bihar and they were coming from Gujarat. These are institutional deaths, Piyush Goyal, you and your government is to be blamed. Shame on you people!”
Sanjay Yadav, an aide to Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, asked who was responsible for the deaths. “This small child doesn’t know that the bedsheet with which he is playing is the shroud of his mother who has gone into eternal sleep,” he said in a tweet. “This mother died of hunger and thirst after being on a train for four days. Who is responsible for these deaths on trains? Shouldn’t the Opposition ask uncomfortable questions?”
The lockdown imposed in March left hundreds of thousands of migrant workers stranded in the places of their work. Millions of them are still walking, cycling, dangerously hitchhiking home, sometimes over distances of more than 1,000 km, often on empty stomachs. More than 170 people have died in accidents on the way. Some died from the sheer exhaustion of walking in the scorching heat.
On April 29, the Centre announced that it would run special Shramik trains to carry migrant workers to their home states. But workers have to get several clearances from their home and host states as part of the process and many of them end up walking.