After a day-long national 'junta curfew' experiment, which featured a 'thali and tali bajao' call for citizens, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, 2020, took an extreme step in the fight against COVID-19.
In a televised announcement, Modi declared a nationwide lockdown for 21 days starting March 24. The abrupt and short-notice lockdown, criticized as being ill-conceived and ill-planned by experts and Opposition parties, caught millions by surprise. Their daily lives went for a toss under the restrictions on movement and economic life.
The worst affected, however, were the marginalized classes --- the urban migrant workers --- whose hand-to-mouth existence in India's bulging cities were threatened in one swipe. The labourers and workers, who act as a cheap labour force to shape our urban centres, were left trapped and hapless in their ghettos and slums. In the ensuing days, the panic, alienation, financial insecurity and lack of amenities created by the near-complete shutdown of economic activities, compelled lakhs of migrant workers, essentially our labour force, to flee to their native places especially villages in poorer states. Some, their children by their side, perilously tried to return on foot. Many died due to exhaustion, never go reach home. Others perished in accidents and mishaps. Like cattle, they hitchhiked on our highways.
Their desperate and undignified journey home also worsened their exposure to the merciless virus.
A day after announcing the national lockdown, Modi justified its long duration by referring to the Hindu epic Mahabharata. If the battle of Mahabharata was won in 18 days, the battle against COVID-19 would take 21 days. Three years later, the nation may have brought the disease under control, but has our migrant population healed from the trauma they were subjected to simply because they were born less privileged and treated like dispensable orphans by those in power?