Thousands of migrants workers defy India’s lockdown demanding trains to home

By Iqbal Abhimanyu

New Delhi, Apr 14 (efe-epa).- Thousands of migrant workers on Tuesday came out on the streets of India’s financial hub Mumbai, demanding food and transport, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the nationwide lockdown until May 3 to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Migrants started gathering near Bandra railway station in Mumbai, the capital of the western state of Maharashtra, around 4 pm and demanded food supplies and train services to return to their home states, dispersing only after the police resorted to a baton charge.

The incident shows growing discontent as the strict lockdown measures, which were originally expected to end on Tuesday, have crippled the Indian economy resulting in millions of job losses.

Hundreds of thousands of workers have been stranded in precarious situations away from their hometowns due to the suspension of all transport.

“Central government should’ve strategically implemented #Lockdown2 & hasty announcement should have been avoided without any plans for the migrant workers,” tweeted Aslam Shaikh, the minister-in-charge of Mumbai in the Maharashtra government.

Shaikh, who is part of ruling coalition in the state that consists of parties that are in the opposition at the national level, claimed that food and groceries had been provided to the workers.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Udhhav Thackeray in a televised address later in the evening assured the workers that his government would arrange to transport them home once the lockdown ended.

“It might have happened because they thought that trains will start from 14th April and so they would be able to go back to their villages,” the chief minister said.

However, the leader of opposition in the state Devendra Fadnavis, who belongs to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, said the local government was “shrugging off its responsibility” and trying to politicize the matter.

Earlier in the day, the prime minister claimed that “quick and decisive decision making” had helped India stop the coronavirus crisis from getting worse, and urged people to maintain discipline as the lockdown was extended by 19 days.

“Until Apr. 20, every town, every police zone, every district, every state will be evaluated on how much the lockdown is being followed,” Modi said.

He said the results of the government’s approach had proved that India was on the right path, even though from an economic point of view, it “undoubtedly” cost the country big.

India, which has some of the most-densely crowded cities in the world, has escaped with a relatively minor outbreak compared to many western countries, with 353 deaths and over 10,000 cases reported so far.

However, the complete halt in economic activity has severely affected its sizable poor and migrant populations, mostly engaged in the unorganized sector and construction, with the authorities struggling to supply food and other essential services.

Similar unrest among migrant workers occurred last week in the western city of Surat, while some homeless people allegedly set fire to their shelter in capital Delhi on Saturday after the reported death of one of the inmates amid scuffles related to food distribution.

Modi’s address on Tuesday did not include any fresh steps to address the growing financial and humanitarian crisis caused by the complete lockdown, although the government had announced a relief package earlier.

India’s $2.9 trillion-economy was already in crisis before the lockdown, with the highest unemployment rate in decades.

Millions of daily wage laborers have now lost their livelihood. Hundreds of thousands of them had even tried to walk back hundreds of miles to their home villages.

Dozens of citizens died on their way home in March before the state governments decided to host them in cramped shelters. The city government in Delhi has been providing free meals to thousands of these laborers. EFE-EPA

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