The abrupt lockdown leading to the closure of businesses in Indian cities has disrupted the lives of millions of migrant laborers. More than a dozen migrants have died and there is increasing frustration. In one of the largest migrations in modern history in India, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have begun long journeys on foot to get home, left homeless and unemployed by the nationwide lockdown of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain coronavirus spread.

With factories closing down throughout the country in towns, huge numbers of refugees — many of whom lived and ate where they worked — suddenly fell without food and shelter. Soup kitchens were overwhelmed in capital Delhi. So far, more than a dozen migrant laborers have lost their lives in various parts of the world as they attempted to return home, officials at the hospital said.

In Delhi, thousands of refugees packed their pots, pans, and blankets into rucksacks, including whole families, some carrying children on their shoulders as they walked along highways. Some planned to go on foot for hundreds of miles.

We are afraid to get the disease by going out on the streets. But people who move on foot to their homes are more afraid of hunger, not corona. This may have been a good option for the rich, but not for those without resources.

In this chaos, we should share the burden of our social responsibility and show some humanity. I have planned to provide ration to migrants and dry foods as well. This is the only way that we can help our people and do not let them die due to hunger. If any family has the capacity to feed a fraction of migrating people they must offer help.

India already had one of the largest homeless populations in the world and the lockdown has exponentially increased its numbers. A Government Census for 2011 placed the number of homeless at 1.7 million, almost certainly a massive under-estimate of 1.3 billion in this country, experts claim.Mr. Modi declared the shutdown, which involves a ban on interstate travel, with a mere four hours ‘notice on Tuesday, which has its own merits but it left the vast migrant population stuck in large cities.

Many of those migrants are fed and housed at the shops and building sites where they work, and hundreds of thousands — if not millions — were suddenly without their homes and a daily source of food as companies closed down. Soup kitchens across Delhi are unable to cope with the demand in which the estimate of the help workers has tripled. Fights had broken out. The government has given no clear strategy to the police to deal with stranded refugees, and several officers have been lashing out.

The homeless are typically fed by a variety of religious institutions in India: Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, and mosques. But now, all are closed and shelters are stressed. Given Government orders to allow transportation of critical products such as food and medication during the lockout, vendors complain that the police are threatening their delivery trucks and their stores are forced to shut down.

The Government has proposed a relief package of $22.5 billion to help the millions rendered unemployed by the lockout. But it’s unclear how much it would support migrants and others in India’s large off – the-books workforce — considered to make up 80 percent of India’s 470 million workers — who are likely to have trouble accessing the benefits. The assistance, like cash and food handouts, is connected to the identification of many migrant workers in national labor databases, or a home address that many migrants do not have.

Anu Bajaj

President-PARI, U. P.