The Indian Railways has operated more than 1,600 Shramik Special trains to carry over 21.5 lakh migrant workers home since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. Yet, this endeavour seems like a drop in the ocean when compared to the scale of the crisis: India has over 120 million migrant labourers.
It is no surprise, then, that homecoming has been thwarted for a vast number of India's most vulnerable. Their families and loved ones are distraught. They wait listlessly, running from pillar to post and jumping through bureaucratic hoops.
Ujyari, speaking through tears, said, "My son is away and he is unable to come home. I'm worried as he's unwell, and there's nothing I can do... There are no means for him to come back, so how can he?"
Pyarelal, a farmer in Mahoba, added, "My son has been away for about three months. We have been trying to call him, but he can't come back. He said, "Koi saadhan hi nahi chal raha hai (there is no means of public transport available). He has a lot of troubles there, issues with rent, food and water." Asked why his son chose to leave home, Pyarelal explained, "I'm just a farmer, and we had to earn our livelihood. So there was no choice, but leave the village."
Pyarelal's son is just one of the countless migrant labourers who left home in order to look for a higher paying job. Such migrant labourers comprise around 20 percent of India's workforce. However, this crisis has demonstrated the precarious of their position in society.
Over two-thirds of them have lost their jobs and are now stranded in cities with no food, water, or roof above their heads. In some cases, state governments are actively hampering their efforts to get home, holding them hostage for when the lockdown eases and business as usual can resume.