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Migrant labour crisis: The corroding empathy in humanity

After a day of exhaustion, I went to bed at 12:30 am last night and looked forward to a sound sleep. However, as one of those bad habits, I thought of scrolling the cell phone for the last time. I opened the WhatsApp and tried to view the pending texts and statuses. Somehow I stumbled upon a piece of news on the WhatsApp status of a friend. The news piece read: “UP sends dead bodies with migrants in open trucks..”

Somehow, the inner conscience could not resist but check the veracity of the news. To my utter shock, I found that tarpaulin-wrapped dead bodies were sent in an open truck. The bodies were those of migrants who died in Auraiya, 200 kilometers away from Lucknow, on Saturday morning. Most of the migrant workers belong to Jharkhand while others are from West Bengal.

The Migrants Suffering

During the lockdown, the migrants have been the worst sufferers. The heart-wrenching visuals of many migrants flocking to their native lands on barefoot in the scorching heat have gone viral. These migrants sometimes walked thousands of kilometers without food or necessary clothes and shelter. While others speak of sanitizers,  some middle class even collecting a huge number of them for future stock, they could not even get the minimum basic, i.e, food. Some, of course, had been lucky enough to get support from compassionate and kind-hearted human beings who have tried as much to feed them. But alas! some succumbed to the hardship before Corona could befall the migrants. Perhaps corona could have done nothing to those hardworking lots who have nurtured a strong immune system by dint of sheer hard working and continuous exposure to new environments. They lived for others while alive; they sacrificed their own lives for the safety of others. I cannot call them short of martyrs. Their blood and sweat have gone into the making of the nation, but their death could not afford more than tarpaulin and an open truck? Is this not an insult to human dignity?

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But still, some on social media tend to justify the act. Someone commented,” the Same scenario has happened worldwide in the US, Italy,  Spain where bodies left at home …in freezer trucks for months till they decompose into fluids. Horrible times.” Somebody else wrote,” Thanks to Govt for sending dead bodies of migrants back. Imagine they did not do this great help.” I don’t need to answer the insensitivity of such virtual beings. But, in other countries most of the dead bodies were of corona patients and they had higher numbers. In this case, the dead bodies were neither of corona patient nor did we enter into a situation when we cannot even think of the deads.

The bigger picture of migrants

This corroding empathy for the migrants is a result of long term built up emotion. Even when 16 labourers died in an accident on a railway track recently, people showed apathy towards them, many questioning their sleeping on the railway track. It is perfectly logical question. But is it not fair to understand the plight that has led them to sleep on the track. Should not one imagine what it takes to walk for miles without food? Should not one empathize with their anxiety, exhaustion and despair? Well this connect of heart to heart is gradually eroding these days.

The ‘othering ‘of a certain group and demonizing of migrants has become a new trend. Sometimess Muslims are demonized, sometimes dalits,  some other times the women and children. They are products of same attitude of debasing one human being from the other. Linguistic chauvinism, misogynism and religious fundamentalism are the manifestations of such attitude.

The refashioning of politics has done a lot of damage to it. Often any individual remark is seen in terms of hyper-nationalism, Hindutva chauvinism, and male bravado. A rape would often be discussed in terms of the larger religious identity of victims and accused. This takes away the individual connect to an incident and puts it into a political context. When such incidents are politicised, the individual and the pain suffered to go into oblivion. People gradually grow numb and lose empathy. Without this emotion, we would be losing ourselves every day. Human beings will turn into dead souls while the nation a soulless machine.

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