05/27/2020, 14.59
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Supreme Court calls for action as death from hunger and thirst haunts returning migrants

by Nirmala Carvalho

A woman died of hunger next to her child. Special trains reach wrong destinations after long trips. Flights are cancelled without refund. The Church in Vasai provides help. India’s Supreme Court calls on the government to help stranded migrants.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The tragedy of hundreds of millions of migrant workers and day labourers, deprived of work, food and shelter because of the lockdown imposed 24 March, has just gotten worse.

In a video widely shared on social media, a toddler can be seen uncovering his mother, lying on the ground dead from extreme heat, hunger and dehydration at the Muzaffarpur Railway Station in Bihar.

She had just arrived from Gujarat in a special train carrying migrant workers back to their villages of origin in Bihar. According to her family, she left on Saturday and was not feeling well on the train from lack of food and water.

For two months, India’s transportation system was on a lockdown. To escape hunger and privations in the cities, migrants tried to reach their villages, some walking thousands of kilometres.

Starting only a week ago, the government organised special train transports to help migrants, including tribals, go home, but this has not been without problems. Indian media have reported that at least 40 of these special (Shramik) trains were sent to the wrong destination.

For example, hundreds of jobless migrants in Vasai (Maharashtra) were loaded on a train for Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh) but ended up in Rourkela (Odisha), almost 900 km further south.

Another Shramik train was supposed to take migrants from Gujarat to Bihar and wound up instead in Karnataka; another one from Patna was to arrive in Mumbai and reached instead Puruliya (West Bengal), more than 1,800 km away.

Flying is also chaotic as many flights are cancelled without notice. Three labourers from Murshidabad (West Bengal) stuck in Mumbai for more than two months without wages tried at first to go home by train, but this failed. When they heard that flights were resuming, their families sold some cattle and raised 30,600 rupees [about US0) for three tickets on the Mumbai-Kolkata flight on Monday. Unfortunately, the flight was cancelled without refund.

Goretti Xalxo, a social worker helping migrants in Vasai (picture 4), told AsiaNews that “Migrants are exhausted, embittered by the feeling of being abandoned. Everyone is trying to leave, but it is difficult. I am trying to organise some trips by train and plane.

“Tonight 24 migrants are expected to fly from Vasai to Ranchi (Jharkhand). But you never know. Thank goodness we found a group of generous sponsors who paid for their ticket.”

The Supreme Court of India has also spoken out on the migrants’ plight. Yesterday. In a statement, the Court said: “We take suo motu cognizance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in different parts of the country.”

Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.R. Shah note "the unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant labourers walking on-foot and cycles from long distances” without “food and water".

"In the present situation of lockdown in the entire country, this section of the society needs succor and help by the concerned Governments especially steps need to be taken by the Government of India.”

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