Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022
×
Outlook.com
×

Rising Insecurity Of Migrant Workers In A Post-Covid World

The rising cases of attacks on security guards, domestic workers, public transport drivers and others involved in blue-collar jobs in Delhi might be an expression of the growing class divide in Delhi. However, it also points to a problem that goes beyond class discrimination. 

Migrant workers leaving Delhi during the Covid-19 lockdown n 2020
Migrant workers leaving Delhi during the Covid-19 lockdown n 2020 PTI

With its high economic growth and infrastructure, Delhi is a magnet for jobless migrant workers who come to the city in droves to avail its opportunities. But data shows that not all get the life they want. 

The rising cases of attacks on security guards, domestic workers, public transport drivers and others involved in blue collar jobs in Delhi might be an expression of the growing class divide in Delhi. However, it also points to a problem that goes beyond class discrimination. 

In 2020, when migrant workers left Delhi in droves amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Delhi experienced a severe shortage of staff when it reopened two months later. Migrants from both skilled and unskilled sectors left inlcuded factories, drivers, housekeeping staff, as well as those involved in packaging, construction workers, hand-embroidery workers, salespersons and security guards, among others. Two years since the first. Pandemic, a majority of the migrants who had left town have come back. But not all who come back can find a job. 

“My brother has been looking for a job for nearly eight months now. He went back to the village last year, but came back this year as there was no work in hour hometown in UP,” says Meena Sahu, a migrant domestic worker living in South Delhi. Meena has also lost income. “Before the pandemic, I had four households. I have barely held on to one now,” she adds. 

With the pandemic, Covid-19 has made getting job in high-rise buildings difficult. “They ask for multiple health checkups and vaccinations proofs. I just have one shot of the vaccine yet,” Meena adds.

As per Census 11, Delhi was home to 63.3 lakh migrant population. According to a 2019 report on migration based on the 2011 Census data, Delhi has the second highest population of inter-state migrants in India. In 2016, the population of Delhi grew by nearly 1,000 a day and of them, nearly 300 were migrants. With its high economic growth and infrastructure, Delhi is a magnet for jobless migrant workers who come to the city in droves to avail its opportunities. 

With its infrastructural advances and high economic growth, Delhi attracts economic migrants by the droves - of the city's 63.3 lakh migrant population in Census 2011, almost a third, or 19.3 lakh, had come to the capital to exploit employment and livelihood opportunities. 

The Indian economy has been witnessing a reasonable growth rate in the past two decades and the migration of labour has contributed greatly to the rise in GDP. An increase in GDP is believed to atutomatically improve worker productivity and income, thus making their living conditions better. 

However, a 2022 paper titled Migrant Informal Workers: A Study of Delhi and Satellite Towns. Modern Economy” by Ram Singh Bora of the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, reveals that even when unemployed, workers are engaged in “low-productivity jobs with low incomes and wages; they work without job safety, medical health and social security provisions. All these deteriorate both living and working conditions of the workers. “.

Apart from jobs, the space and poor housing is yet another problem looming large on migrants across major cities.  Due to rural-urban migration, cities grow in size, and slums are created, mainly urban facilities do not grow at the same rate. This leads to migrant populations residing in slums. However, state governments are increasingly adopting demolition and forced eviction as a strategy to replan cities and in some cases, punish communities for particular acts. 

According to a recent report titled ‘Forced Evictions in India: 2021’ by  Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), 36,480 houses were demolished across India in 2021 and 207,106 people were forcibly evicted by central and state governments. The report also pointed out that between 2017 to 2021, nearly 10 lakh people had been displaced. The problem of displacement is directly linked to migrant movements.

Forced evictions constitute gross violations of a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner defines forced eviction as a human rights violation since right to adequate housing is a basic human right just like right to water, food, work, education, health, security, freedom from cruelty and freedom of movement.

The HLRN report noted that 50 per cent of the people evicted did not receive any government rehabilitation.  

The extent of the crisis faced by migrant workers became evident in 2020 when the first Covid-109 lockdown was imposed, leaving millions of migrants jobless and stuck outside of their homes with no way to travel home. In 2020, about 1.1 crore migrants travelled thousands of kilometres in scorching heat amid pandemic curbs. In the first four weeks of the lockdown in the Delhi, an estimated 8,00,000 migrants started walking home due to lack of jobs and money. But once the lockdown was over, many came back due to lack of jobs in rural areas or tier tow, three towns. In 2021, a similar scene unfolded with nearly 500,000 migrants left Delhi amid the deadly second wave of the pandemic. Despite the hardships and fear of sudden lockdown, migrants are compelled to return to cities like Delhi due to the lack of any real career prospects or job opportunities. 

Earlier this year, the Delhi government announced the setting up of ’10 migrant worker support centres’ to ensure that a lockdown-like situation does not arise again. By February, it had already started the process of setting up three such centres in East, West and South Delhi from where migrant workers can get information, said an official, asking not to be named.

But housing also does not solve the whole crisis of migrant workers who continue to function with nor safety net. A 2021 paper titled “The plight of migrants during COVID-19 and the impact of circular migration in India: a systematic review”analysed the impact of the covid-19 pandemic and successive lockodowns on the migrant populations in urban cities. A 2020 psychological study on migrant workers revealed that  63.3% of participants underwent loneliness and around 48% felt socially alienated. Several studies shed light on the discrimination faced by migrants belonging to disadvantaged communities. 

With continued economic insecurity and lack of social safety net, migrant workers are bound to face abuse and helplessness in urban spaces that fail to provide not just economic fortitude but also a life of dignity. 

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement