Bhopal: Bhanwarlal became a national screenshot of the exodus of migrant workers. When he stopped on a highway in Madhya Pradesh, and used scissors to gnaw through the plaster on his left leg, Bhanwarlal became a national screenshot of the exodus of migrant workers who are walking home to their villages after the abrupt declaration of a total lockdown across India.
Bhanwarlal injured his three toes and ankle while working as a daily wage labourer in Madhya Pradesh's Pipariya town. "I have come this far (500km) in a vehicle and am desperate to reach my family and my hometown," he said.
He plans to walk the remaining 240 kilometres to his village in Rajasthan. "I realize the police have stopped movement of people on the border as a security measure but I have no option. My family is alone and I have no work so I can't send them any money. I have to cut the plaster off and walk," he said.
Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a televised address that the entire country was going into a complete lockdown at midnight for 21 days to prevent the coronavirus from surging exponentially. With public transport cut off and factories and construction sites shutting down, migrant labourers were left with little choice but to start walking home.
Pictures of them streaming down highways once clogged with buses and trucks, many carrying their young children in their arms or on their backs, triggered national outrage. While acknowledging a lockdown may have been necessary to beat coronavirus in a country where the public health system is deeply inadequate, many asked why the plight of migrant workers and the poor had not been factored into plans.
Buses were gradually organized by some states like Uttar Pradesh to ferry them home. Photos of thousands of them gathered at a large bus terminal in Delhi on Saturday pointed to the collapse of social distancing as well as the sheer breadth of those whom the crisis has left most vulnerable.
States have sealed their borders and have been asked by the centre to provide shelter camps for these lakhs of workers with officials declaring that it's essential that they stay where they are. The government last week also announced a $22.6 billion economic stimulus plan that provides direct cash transfers and food security. Madhya Pradesh is also providing food and shelter to migrant workers at borders.
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