Normalising Images Of Suffering Migrants Is Another Pandemic


Images are powerful than words. We normally get accustomed to the kind of images we encounter on a regular basis. Getting used to an aberration for a few months can make us accept aberration as the new normal. We have been used to lies peddled by politicians and the market, through advertisements, so much that we have become used to those lies. While some start believing the lies as truth, many actually have stopped caring. This callous attitude can prove fatal.
This has happened in case of the images showing plight of the millions of migrant workers who have been left to themselves on the streets. Images of their plight have become so much visible that they have become invisible to the eyes of leaders and other people who enjoy the comforts of staying indoors with their supplies intact.
There is another danger in normalising these images as the new normal. “Migrants are poor, they have to suffer”: if this narrative is making us not to raise our voice against this inhuman treatment meted out to them then we are failing as a civilized society. The other day a friend argued with me, saying in a pandemic such problems do happen and they have to bear it. Another person argued, why did they not wait till the arrangements were made for them to travel back? Why did they start walking? These same friends and their likes would be so worried if their family members were stuck somewhere due to the lockdown. They would do whatever it takes to bring them back. They have the money and connections, the migrants have their own feet.
A country that intends to be a super power has to have a system that narrows down the gap between these two sections. If it cannot do anything anytime soon to increase their income, it has to increase the entitlements and social security measures of the poor to an extent that they are treated, with government support, as the same category of citizens as others and live with dignity. For that to happen, the best facilities should be made available to the poorest unlike the current design where the rich are being brought in special flights and the poor have been forced to walk hundreds and thousands of kilometres on their own to reach their homes.
India is committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to reach the last mile. Here the last mile is literally coming to the system asking for support. Neither identification is a problem nor are funds a problem. Why then should the poor be left to suffer? Is it because they don’t count as equal citizens? Perhaps because their contribution to nation building has not been glorified or marketed as that of some other sections. This pandemic should change this perception of ours. The factories, the construction sites and many such establishments, that we call symbols of development, actually can’t run without these people. They are at the core of these systems being functional and profit making. Ignoring them has been a blunder and must stop henceforth.
The governments took time to respond to this crisis, the courts too delayed their response. Two months after the lockdown, as restrictions ease and cases spike, these people are still walking. The restrictions never meant anything to them because they had to peg themselves up in whatever transport option they got. And the people of the country have made images of migrants travelling like paddy sacks and broilers seem normal. Prime television channels, most of them, don’t discuss their plight anymore. This has to change. This can’t be normal.
We, as a country, as a society and civilization, need to restore the faith of the daily wagers and other poor in democracy and humanity. The insecurity they now carry and the trauma they have been through is a pandemic in itself. This has to be fought with provision of better labour rights, secured employment opportunities and humane treatment with social security measures. A democracy cannot exclude its people, any section of them, just because they are poor.

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