The Mother of All Road Shows

The Mother of All Road Shows - Seniors Today

Hard on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic, the plight of countless migrant workers walking across the country to reach home is India’s biggest tragedy since Partition, writes Vickram Sethi

If the Holocaust was the biggest tragedy for the Jews, then the Partition was India’s biggest tragedy. Now we are watching lakhs and lakhs of migrants walking all the way home, wherever their home is. To me this is India’s biggest tragedy after the Partition. It is the mother of all road shows; now the whole world knows the face of the real India and also Indians themselves.

The young and the helpless – is this India’s future

For about over a month we have seen images and stories of lakhs and lakhs of migrant workers trudging thousands of miles across the length and breadth of this country. Watching a sea of humanity walk from one place to the other; young able-bodied men and women begging for food, standing in long queues from 6 in the morning hoping that at 12 noon when their turn comes, they would be able to get some food. During this trudge, many may have died, parents could have abandoned their little kids because they no longer could feed them. The migrants have one compulsive emotion and that is the need to get back to their family – parents, wife and kids. This is extreme cruelty. Human suffering at its worst. Why did this happen? Who subjected these people to such extreme cruelty?

Why didn’t someone take over the dhabas on the way and give these people free food, simple dal-khichdi that could provide warmth in the stomach, water to drink and a place to rest before moving on or even a pair of shoes to walk home. What you see in this mass of humanity is an explosion of cooperation, where the poor have walked through this cruel journey together with their friends, brothers, families and children. Each one has cared for the other. This kind of empathy is a quality of the poor.

No one’s people

The tragedy of 16 people crushed to death on the tracks near Aurangabad should hurt us and prick our collective conscience. Where are the netas who promise the world when they come to seek votes? May be a few of them should do the 500-mile trek across the country to understand what real hardship is. Can India see its own poverty? Does it make you feel sad? For a moment, get out of yourself and look at your face in the face of the poor to understand what poverty is. Do their lives have any meaning? What do words like social distancing, self-esteem, dignity mean to this mass of invisible labourers who are no one’s people. What would happen once they get home? Are they carrying the virus back with them amongst all their burdens? What kind of a life will they go back to?

It is cruel to see and hear statisticians, political analysts, economists, social activists and a whole bunch of people who appear on television mouthing platitudes on the poverty line, the GDP per capita, all the schemes that the government is implementing to make life better… soon a lot of armchair spokespersons whose job is to speak will make PowerPoint presentations on how they are working to improve the life of these migrants. I doubt if any of them have even seen the reality of their poverty or even looked at them in their face. What is bad, is that they will pass all kinds of judgments on inane issues but will never get to the core of the problems faced by the migrants.

Out of jobs and evicted from rented accommodation, out of- state workers have no option but to pick up their lives and leave

Where is the love and compassion for the poor? Even after so many days they are still dithering on providing transportation through rails, roads and such. Is this the superpower we call ourselves? Again, on television we will see yet another statistic on so many millions that have been added to the poverty numbers. The line of poverty if u can see, it exists in our eyes and that’s where we need to find it. What is the meaning of democracy for the poor? Actually nothing! People who are below the poverty line are probably out of the democratic process.

The binding factor
Lock, stock and shattered dreams, families leave for the only place they can now call home

Poverty is also a great binding factor, in recent times there has been a surge of anti-Muslim rhetoric amidst this Covid-19 crisis. You see rich people coming out of their kothis and asking the sabjiwallah his name, wanting to see his Aadhar Card (thank god, the person stopped there) to find out whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim. While they were at it I wish someone could have asked, what is the religion of gaajar, matar, gobi, palak, methi…? Do we know the religion of water? Unfortunately, this anti-Muslim rhetoric has moved up even to the top and the middle class, where Hindus and Muslims have problems with each other but not so the poor. Go to the slums in Mumbai – Kherwadi, Geeta Nagar, Dharavi, Worli, Govandi… the Muslim neighbour carpenter will often volunteer to create the neighbour’s Ganapati pandal and his wife would probably lend a helping hand in rolling out the modaks. Poverty is lack of cash and not lack of character.

India’s international image has taken a huge downgrade with the visuals of the migrants walking home. The anti-Muslim rhetoric has hurt the Hindus who are a minority in the rest of the world. When the government of UAE has to send a representative on the inter-faith council to the USA they send a Sikh, Surinder Singh Kandhari, to represent them. There is a lesson here for us.


Hopeless future

What happens when people lose hope? After such a long and horrible journey home, is life fair to them? What kind of life will they have once they have reached home? Would there be any employment opportunities? They lived on the fringe in the city and tried to create a life for themselves. The calamity of walking back, the darkness that will embrace them shattering a million dreams. They came to the city in the first place to create a new life for themselves; wanting to send their children to angrezi medium schools, clothes from Fashion Street, the big occasion of their child’s birthday celebration at McDonald’s. Now will they ever have enough money to save for a future that doesn’t exist?

Workers desperate to reach their homes are taking every available means of transport

At this point, they look into a hopeless future. The question is, what kind of a life will they have once they have gone home? How will they stop feeling sorry for themselves? All kinds of problems will come up in the most challenging circumstances. It’s like living in a beautiful house and suddenly there’s an earthquake and everything falls to the ground, everything is ruined, all hopes, aspiration and dreams have been turned into dust.

What hope do they have of rebuilding their life? Could they ever recover from this trauma? What happens when youth lose hope? Will we have people looting/robbing on the streets? This long walk is the worst thing that could have happened to a large population and yet no one is feeling sad about it. Give a twist to Eva Peróns famous line, “Don’t cry for me dear India, the truth is I never loved you.”

At an unemployment rate of 26% at the GDP of -2% (source: Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), India today is a 72-year-old patient inching towards systematic organ failure. Welcome to the biggest roadshow of the world, India 2020.

32 Comments on “The Mother of All Road Shows”

  1. You are right that there are many migrant workers who want to go home,still there is need of these peoples in the industry
    Wherever industries has started who have paid salaries for month of March April those workers also want to go big tragedy
    Government and media should take the views of industry also what is there problems

    We have paid salaries and wages for last 8 days of March and Full for April
    Now government has allowed to start factories please publish views of industry also

    1. Right. Migrants are desperate but there are many who have got their wages good and accommodation yet they have gone

    2. This write up is pure Bull Shit. Migrant labourers weren’t born or created today. There are more pathetic stories all round the year in each part of the world. The same situation prevails in the most advanced western countries also. There are photographs of elderly scavengers searching for food in Switzerland. So, stop blah, blah, blah. We are better off than many in the world.

  2. Superb article sir. U have actually zoomed in to the facts and opened our eyes with what is going to happen and what is happening at present which I believe the media will never show as it is sold out to the powerful people in the government.

    Atleast during 1947, true picture was seen and government worked towards development of our nation which is totally opposite at this time with this government.

  3. Will ever our netas in power ever realize the pain,agony,dumb suffering of the millions of BPL humanbeings in these critical and crucial times ?It seems they are more inclined and interested in blowing their own trumpets broadcasting various so called welfare schemes which showcases their on paper which seldom implemented at the grassroot level!May God give them wisdom and conviction to put those Crore schemes impliment in actual situation

  4. Dear sir ,
    I am not politician but why Kerla states is become super hero as world best 94% recovery rate with only 3 died with corona , why no one is taking about their good procedures related to Epedemic care .
    The average 50% people of Kerla are migrating to different states or to various countries, the very first Indian corona patient came via wuhan to Kerla but hats off to all who succeeded to tackle this Epedemic so good.
    The migrant labour’s within Kerla also taken care with proper support & efficiency without taking political exposure.. kailash chogle ( Mumbai )

  5. This arm-chair critic, Sethi guy, calls others an arm-chair critic !!! This guy is so negative and pessimistic as if all this is done purposely by some evil forces and there will never be a comeback. Indirectly he shoots off hot-air that India is a gone case. This character does not have a single suggestion or solution to this problem. Just keeps playing his nonsensical negative record and criticizing the country itself. Pathetic fellow

    1. This gentleman , Shriyuth Vickram Sethi, has seen all the Migrant labourers from his 37th floor pent house, just for the first time. He should start evaluating himself before he takes up the stupendous job of evaluating the Situation in India. He should start with the servants in his house. Do they sleep with him in the same bedroom ??? Has he ever gone to any construction site and observed the living conditions ??? Has he ever seen the working conditions of workers in a Sttel, jute, cement or a Sugar factory ??? Has he ever seen an old man fighting with a stray for the throw always in a garbage bin ??? Has he ever seen the mothers sleeping with a glass of water after not being able to feed the only child ??? The narration of very pathetic scene shows goes on and on. It’s not happening JUST TODAY UNDER THE PRESENT DISPOSITION. ITS THE CUMULATIVE EFFECT OF THE EARSTWHILE LEADERS WHO HAVE Kept THE POOR AS POOR AND RICH AS RICH. THE MIddle CLASS TAKING THE BURDEN AS USUAL. POVERTY ALIENATION WAS A JOKE UNDER THE CONGRESS RULE FOR THE LAST 70 YEARS AND MODI OR THE KRISHNA BHAGWAN CAN NOT CHANGE IT OVER NIGHT. There are scenes of elderly people IN SWITZERLAND, supposed to be super rich, trying to scavenge the throw always from a garbage bin. Writing articles to rake up hatred against the ruling party is a well paid job and Shriyuth Vickram Sethi is one of such journalists or what should I call him ???

    1. There is some positivity in this march . Migrant labours have a anchor sheet in the village the belong to. Try to understand their faith in the birth place , environ and brithethood that is prevalent in that place.
      They have a place to fall back upon.
      Does pure city population has any such a fall back mechanism.
      City poulation looks at village population and place in a not a such eugolozing maner.
      This exodus is vastly different than those of two mentoned in write up. Earlier two migration was in dark. This was in bright prospective area,

  6. True
    But who wants to create collective future for all Indians without any class and bias
    We are most racist society with infinite differences within us
    I do not know how are we going to lead the world? We want to be guru to the world
    Soul of the nation is new word in use for whole societies become cohesive without any kind of misery
    We are most religious hypocrites with unusual and without merits are mostly leading us in all walk of life is true disease never recognised is real issue

  7. Superb and an article with truth embedded that no1 wants to fathom . But there are many who support families of the staff that works for us , drivers , cooks , maids with their salaries paid in full since last 3 months & will continue to do so . Collectively if we salaried & the business community support , this can be improved a bit , knowing well that profits were made pre covid times with the work force largely comprised of migrant workers …..

  8. Very very pthatic & distress situation.God help them to over come this situation.I know people are help full in some part & state govt.also helping but situation is most grave.So,Only god can help them.

  9. This is really a sad state of affairs. Why didn’t our politicians and bureaucrats see it coming and act. I’ll advised perhaps. All the tom tom-ed do called achievements have gone down the drain, anyway that’s where it deserved to be in the first place!
    Hope we as a nation will be sensitised to the suffering of the poor.

  10. A moving story that leaves us soul searching . A blot on our conciousness.
    An exposure of our true selves. Pray that’s not true. But can’t hide what we witness .

  11. Most painful, suffering of people, forced on them with out a second thought. When there was less than 500 cases in in India other parts of the very strong country was struggling, and it was spreading fast no care was taken in India. At that point wisest steps could have taken to alert the Nation, give time, few days for this people to move, take ration and purchase other essentials etc and declare lockdown, it could have minimised the cases and the sufferings. We haven’t learned any thing from Notebendi, GST etc. We do not have any any other option but pray for everyone and especially this selfish Political mockery ?

  12. Sir ,
    Well written !
    The government should consider the following points :

    1. Why has proper arrangements not been made for migrant workers and their families to reach their home ?

    2. The process of evacuating migrants should have commenced when we learn of the first Covid case in India in January 2020

    3. So much money donated to government and NGOs and this is the condition of migrants ?
    Makes us loose faith in charity and donations .
    4. The employers of these migrants should be pulled up for discarding migrants and using them like toilet rolls .

    5. In many cases the employers have held back the migrant wages or deducted their salaries so the migrants return to work .
    No action against such demonic employers ?
    Infact government is giving stimulus to such employers and allowing them to exploit workers with 12 hours working .
    No monitoring to ensure extra pay for extra work hours

    Our country is a country of slaves in work places
    The migrants have no voice and so do the blue collar workers in employment who are abused and exploited by industrialist daily .

    A silent suffering of the people , of India

    The poor average human has no one to go to
    No justice to look forward to

    1. Good one
      Indian politicians will not like to develop conditions of BPL . This is a cheapest vote bank say Rs500, or a bottle of country liquor. BPL class is kept alive for the vested interests.

  13. Yes the story of migrants is sad. It is worse than partition times. Yet, they were assured of getting dal chawal and a transport back home. Trains have been and are being arranged. The desperation can be understood but they could have waited for some time. Someone has instigated and fed sad stories of infection , lockdown and the like. And that is worse, to scare and give a desperate picture of the future. It is a global phenomenon not restricted to india

    1. Dr, you have nailed it. 1). Some vested interests have instigated the migrant labour with horror stories and made them run ON THE RAILWAY TRACKS. 2). The pandemic is not only in India. It’s a global phenomenon. 3). Criticising every act of the Govt is the privilege and prerogative of The Family only.

    2. Instead of criticizing we should think how we can help . Request to all political parties to help migrant instead of debating on tv. I think media can do the things fast.why media is not becoming a problem can call responsible leaders of various political groups alongwith administrators and get the problem solved immidiatly .I think media should do some creative job

  14. This is an arm chair article. The author has presented a bleak and negative picture . He doesn’t know Indians. We can sort out our problems. He talks of minority harassment forgetting how they behave and talk and propagate. Other countries have told them to get out or follow their rules. It is only tolerant Indians who are putting up with their nonsense.

  15. Who ever has instigated the migrant workers and fuelled by most of the media and some of the supporters of Oppositions of the present Govt, has shown this country in very poor light. They donot have much of work, cannot digest what the Govt has done and doing, they cannot bring out a single penny to spend on the migrants help, but will have all the world of best of words to describe and talk I’ll of the Present Govt.
    The migrants are mostly illiterates, if something like this is instigated, they just will not listen to anyone.
    Try to help the Govt in fighting of these present situation, but instead are fuelling up .
    So request all the people in this above mails, who have talked against the Govt can better do something, then talk or can better keep quiet.

  16. Very well writen.
    It would more better if solutions were also mentioned.
    Covid 19 Pandemic is sudden and without invitation.
    To be balanced and fair the present Central and the Governments in State are fully invol rd 24/7 in attending to aspects connected to Pandemic .
    Just critising for sake of criticism is improper and injust.
    Also seeing the behaviour of persons

    Also there were numerous incidents of stone throwing etc and Medical Staff, police personnel were abused and beaten up.
    Mixing communal angle shows use of political angle or hidden political agenda.
    This is not expected of a such reputed
    and highly popular author.
    Jai Hind.

  17. Your piece the mother of all roadshows is a real eye opener people like malladi are unhappy in their  personal lives and take it  out on others  who is sleeping in your bedroom  etc etc is nonsense  not worth reprinting ignore these unhappy people

    May be they should walk 10 km to  know the pain of the migrants instead of looking at the message they want to shoot the messenger

    Finally let them donate some thing to some charity it would help their conscience

    1. Saheb, Personal abuse and belittlings directed at the persons subscribed TO THE ARTICLE is CHEAP and only an ill advised and ignorant can adopt. Writing articles with very pious words and oozing sympathy towards the Migrant Labour is a fad. Respected persons like Mr. Andrew have, probably, never worked in a factory or a construction site and hence he is awakened suddenly by the mean article of Mr. Sethi. Or he must be an Industry Owner who distributes the entire earnings equally to all his staff, including hinself and the workmen in his factory were sent to their native villages by chartered flights. It’s happenning for centuries and it’s going to take a very long time in Bharath, for the working class, to come up to the social standing of Mr. Andrew. What I want to say is that the present scenario is nothing new due to Coronavirus or the present Central Govt or State Govts. The Govt should have allowed the workers to go home in the first instance as THEY HAVE TO GO BACK TO THEIR VILLAGES DURING HARVEST TIME AND COME BACK TO CLAIM BACK THEIR JOBS. It’s a normal practice happening every year. THAT WAS AN ERROR Of JUDGEMENT TO TRY TO STOP THEM. THEY WOULD HAVE COME BACK BY THIS TIme and the factories and construction activities would have started. Instead, all the States and the Center are stuck with the migrant labour still on the way to their villages and here factories and the builders are WITHOUT LABOUR. Mr. Andrew does not know about the people who have donated, contributed and participated in the process to contain the Corona except oozing sympathy to the Brothern and he must have donated huge sums to the PM fund and state funds besides participating in various charity projects of the NGOs, Private and his own Personal Aid Missions. It would have been ideal if Mr. Andrew had given some suggestions to eradicate the poverty of the working class and long term objectives to the present and future Govts. Jai Hind.

  18. It is one of the biggest tragedy we are facing now. Even if some Organisations pick from the road and drop them in there state border (if they do not allow entry) may be better solution. Humanity is lost to many leaders. It is worst than slavery years. Central government mother accept their fault or correct their mistakes. Only job they do is abusing opposition and selling public sectors for money in a throw-away price and make money for BJP. Now we are living under a dictatorship of Modi.

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