Nobody knows how many migrants have died from COVID-19
by Nirmala Carvalho

Families cannot expect financial compensation. India so far has reported five million cases with more than 80,000 deaths. According to the authorities, more than 10 million migrant workers have returned to their villages. For Catholic bishops, migrants, tribal people and Dalits are being denied justice, equality and humanitarian care. To avoid discrimination, families and village leaders are refusing to disclose the cause of deaths in COVID-19 cases.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Since there are no data on the deaths of migrant workers from COVID-19, the question of compensation “does not arise,” India’s Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Santosh Gangwar, told parliament on Monday. This has sparked harsh reactions by opposition parties and civil society groups.

India has reported so far more than five million SARS-CoV-2 cases in the country, the highest number in the world after the United States. This coronavirus is spreading at great speed, with 90,000 new cases per day.

Amid shortages of Intensive Care beds and oxygen supplies, more than 80,000 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. However, despite these shortcomings, India’s COVID-19 death rate is lower than many countries with a high number of cases.

This upward trend comes at a time when the government is further easing restrictions in order to reboot an economy that has lost millions of jobs since March, when the pandemic crisis hit the country.

Against this backdrop, internal migrants are the group that suffered the most. The labour minister admitted that more than 10 million migrants have returned to their places of origin.

Fr Nicholas Barla, national secretary of Office for Tribal Affairs of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, notes that India’s COVID-19-related mortality is low at every level: country, state, district and village.

Nonetheless, “For years, we have asked the authorities to provide data on internal migrants, even before the outbreak of the pandemic,” he explained. Sadly, “for migrants, tribal people and Dalits, there is no justice, equality or humanitarian care; all have to eke out a living for themselves.”

Fr Anand Mathew, a missionary with the Indian Missionary Society in Varanasi, has helped many internal migrants with food and other basics. He too slammed Minister Gangwar's statement. In his view, “In such a vast country, with a huge administrative system, is it possible that the government is unable to provide data on coronavirus deaths.”

He complains that the government spends millions on frivolous things, and then does not want to compensate the families of poor workers. "We are facing a cruel and insensitive government that prides itself on not caring for the poorest people."

Goretti Xalxo, coordinator of Pahunch, an NGO that helps tribal migrants in the Vasai area, is less critical towards the authorities.

“The coronavirus brings social discrimination with it. For this reason, many people have not disclosed the death of their relatives,” she explained.

“In the villages, the members of village councils (gram panchayat) do not register the deaths, so it is impossible to have reliable data. How can we now blame the government? People must be educated; it is their right, recognised in the constitution.”