Pune is an industrial city not far from Mumbai. In the early morning of August 5, before the sun rose, the railway station was brightly lit. Hundreds of people just got off the train and waited in line in the hall. Everyone carries luggage: a bundle of clothes, a backpack, or a bag of grain. Each face is covered by a mask, towel or saree. Like Prajapati, most people in the station are migrant workers who fled their hometowns and returned to Pune to work during the epidemic. Today, their debts are getting heavier and heavier, so they have to go back to the city to find work. Prajapati came to the front of the queue, and the staff asked him carefully about his situation, stamped his hand and asked him to self-isolate for seven days. When the sun came out, Prajapati walked out of the station and entered the most severely affected city in the country.
| Wandering between urban and rural areas |
The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped India in ways beyond imagination. Although the Indian economy has continued to grow in the past 40 years, it has already begun to fall before the blockade. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the Indian economy will contract by 4.5% this year. Decades of economic development have lifted hundreds of millions of Indians out of extreme poverty, and these people are now facing multiple risks. Like Prajapati, a large number of migrant workers have left their hometowns in recent years to find new opportunities in the booming metropolis. Although their labor has made India the fifth largest economy in the world, many people have fallen into extreme poverty because of the lockdown measures during the epidemic. The loopholes in the welfare system mean that migrant workers cannot get government benefits and food. Hundreds of people died, and more people spent their meager savings over the past few years.
Migrant workers returning to the city for work talked to staff at the Pune Railway Station.
To some extent, the 35-year-old Prajapati is lucky. He has lived and worked in Pune since he was 16 years old. Like many migrant workers, he regularly remits money to his home, and he returns home to help his family during busy farming seasons. Over the years, the money he sent home helped his father build a house with four rooms. After the blockade began, he sent half of the only US$132 he had on hand home, and the remaining US$66 was still more than many people’s savings, enough for him to live for three weeks. The landlord allowed him to postpone the rent payment. Two weeks after the blockade began, Modi asked the citizens to turn off the lights at nine o’clock in the evening and light nine-minute candles through a video to show the unity of the country. Prajapati was very excited about this. He placed the lighted small oil lamps in the shrine and outside the door: “We are happy to do this. This may help contain the epidemic.”
Other migrant workers are less enthusiastic about this. For those whose daily wages are only enough for food, the blockade is a disaster. After the epidemic caused the closure of factories and construction sites, many bosses who had previously provided food and accommodation swept their employees out. Moreover, because India’s welfare is managed by the states, migrant workers can no longer receive food and other relief items after they leave their hometowns. According to a report from the Delhi Society for Economic Research, as of mid-May, at least 500 people in India had died of “difficulties” such as starvation, car accidents, and lack of medical treatment.
| Policy implementation is difficult |
Although Indian policymakers have long recognized the degree of economic dependence on informal labor—about 40 million migrant workers migrate within the country for work—but the blockade has allowed this group of “invisible citizens” to enter the country’s eyes. Arvind Subramanian, who once served as Modi’s economic adviser, said: “What is surprising is the sheer scale of our country’s migrant workers and the fact that they are completely outside the social security network.” Modi in 2014 The campaign slogan when he took office was to solve India’s development problems, but under his rule, India’s economic growth rate fell from 8% in 2016 to 5% last year, and he launched flagship projects such as ensuring that everyone has a bank account. Then there is a lot of resistance. Subramanian said: “In fact, India urgently needs migrant workers. They provide vitality to the economy and help many people get rid of poverty. But if the income of the poor is to be increased, it is necessary to ensure that the social security system is better They serve.”
To curb the economic downturn, Modi adjusted his position in May. In a televised speech, he said: “The new crown virus will coexist with us for a long time, but our lives cannot revolve around the new crown virus.” He announced that he would allocate US$260 billion to implement rescue measures, which is about 10 of India’s GDP. %, but only a negligible share has reached the hands of the poor, and most of the funds are used to help companies tide over the difficulties. Modi has repeatedly mentioned that India should become a self-sufficient economy, which makes Prajapati no longer have any hope of receiving government assistance. “Modi said that we must be self-sufficient. What do you mean? This means that we can only rely on ourselves, and the government doesn’t care about us.” He said.
By June, the blockade measures were lifted and Prajapati’s savings had been spent. His ID was registered with his home address, so he could not receive government relief food, nor did he have the money to buy food for his family. He went to a square three times to receive free food from a non-profit organization. On June 6, he finally left Pune and returned to his hometown, but before leaving, he had to borrow 76 dollars from relatives to buy tickets for his wife, brother and himself. Hearing that some migrant workers’ return journey is full of fatal danger, he is grateful for being able to return home safely.
At the same time, despite the government ordering a blockade, the new crown virus is still spreading rapidly in India. By June, a record of new confirmed cases will be set almost every day. As the virus spreads from early urban areas to rural areas with weaker medical conditions, public health experts are concerned because India has only 0.55 hospital beds per thousand people, far below Brazil’s 2.15 and the United States’ 2.8. Expert Ramana Raxminarayan said, “Most of India’s health infrastructure is located in urban areas, and the virus is currently spreading in some states with very low levels of detection and rural areas with poor public health conditions.”
|”Inside Enemy” Muslims |
Modi’s popularity skyrocketed after the national blockade order was issued in March, and many Indians described this move as decisive and powerful. After the foreign leaders ordered the blockade, there will be a “honeymoon period”, and then the people will feel resentful, but Modi’s approval rate has been surprisingly high, sometimes even exceeding 80%. The reason lies in his political plan. Modi’s critics say the plan seeks to transform India from a multi-faith constitutional democracy to a Hindu dictatorship. Last year, the Modi government cancelled the autonomy of India-controlled Kashmir; in addition, Ayodhya, a religious shrine in the north, is building a luxurious Hindu temple.
A health worker measures the temperature of a woman in a slum.
Before the outbreak, Modi encountered the most serious challenge-protests that lasted for several months across the country. People gathered in universities and public places to read the preamble to the Indian Constitution aloud, quote Gandhi’s remarks, and hold high the Indian tricolor flag. The protests began in December 2019, because a controversial bill strengthened restrictions on Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to obtain Indian citizenship. Later, the protests turned into opposition to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. In the February elections in Delhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party declared that it would quell the protests, but lost its seat in parliament. Soon after, riots broke out in the Indian capital, and 53 people were killed, of which 38 were Muslims. A report issued by Human Rights Watch stated that the police did not prevent Hindus from killing aimlessly in Muslim communities and sometimes even participated in attacks on Muslims.
Hash Mander, a well-known civil rights activist, said of the nationwide protests from December last year to March this year: “In those 100 days, I thought India had finally changed completely.” However, the blockade order forced the protests. Stopped abruptly. Since then, the government has increased its pressure on dissidents.
The staff pushed the body of a new crown patient into the crematorium.
Mand said: “The government has used this epidemic to suppress India’s largest mass movement since independence. India’s Muslim community has become an internal enemy. The economy collapsed, starvation is everywhere, and the epidemic is raging, but these are not important. President Modi It can be forgiven. The normalization of hatred is like a drug. Under the effect of this drug, hunger becomes acceptable.”
| Back to the city to survive |
Prajapati, who is about to starve, said that the Modi government has hardly provided assistance to migrant workers. “If the government doesn’t even give us a bag of rice, what can we say? I don’t have any hope for the government.” However, for this devout Hindu and Modi supporter, changing the government is not feasible of. “We can’t trust others like Modi, at least he has done some good things.” He said.
Prajapati stayed in his hometown from June to August, working in the farmland where rice, wheat, potatoes and mustard greens were grown at home, but there was nothing else to do and the harvest in the fields was insufficient. To feed a large family. Now, who still owes $267 to his boss and relatives, he decided to return to Pune with his wife and brother. Fearing about the increasingly serious epidemic in the city, Prajapati’s usual unsmiling father shed tears when he sent his son away from home. Prajapati returned to the city with 44 pounds of wheat and 22 pounds of rice. He hoped that the food could feed his family before he found a job on the construction site.
On the night when he returned to Pune, Prajapati cleaned his house, cooked dinner with food brought back from his hometown, and then started calling the contractor to find work. The isolation seal put on his hand by the train station staff became blurred. He intends to start work as soon as possible, “Regardless of whether the blockade continues, no matter what happens, we have to live here to make money and find a way to survive.”