Nowadays migrant workers have become a focus of media attention and policy makers. Some are highlighting their apathy in the form of moving hundreds of kilometers from their working places towards their native places, while others are revealing statistics alluding that crores of rupees are being spent on meeting their daily needs in the form of providing free ration, masks etc.
Though both of the sides are doing their job for which they deserve kudos, the real issue lies whether these incentives are actually working for their betterment or not? In other words, whether the needs of-the deserving are being fulfilled or not? It struck my mind when a woman during forenoon knocked at my door with her open hand in front of me. While looking at her it appeared to me that she was a migrant woman,- from somewhere outside of Kashmir Valley usually called ‘Bihari’ in normal parlance by the majority of local people here in Kashmir (Note that the word ‘Bihari’ itself is discriminatory which I personally don’t follow).
So, without wasting any time I rushed to her with some amount of money. To my surprise she rejected and I asked her ‘then what do you want’? She replied “khaana doe” (Give me some food). Once again, I went inside and I asked for food from my mother who packed some and gave it to me. I came back with the package of food in my hand which was “the best thing” to her that she had asked for. Again, she surprised me by informing me; “mai yahan par hi khaawugi” (I will eat it here). Considering the agony of being hungry as a human being I provided her with clean space and water. In the meantime, she started telling me about her whereabouts, her place of residence etc. Then at one point she revealed that she was not a usual beggar, but it was this catastrophe that is lockdown which has left her with no other option other than begging. I shook my head in amazement.
Feeling perturbed, I asked her about her source of income, to which she replied “hum purane kapde bechte the aur kamayi karlete the lekin ab kuch nhi ha” (We use to sell old clothes and earn our living but now we have nothing). Finally, the lady packed the leftover food and began to leave with a half-filled stomach keeping the rest of the food for her hungry children who had been waiting for her for hours. From the whole incident I got an impression that there is a huge difference between what is said in the media and what is actually implemented on the ground. Reality is far behind!
It is worth noting that these migrant workers spend their entire lives moving to different places in search of better livelihood, opportunities and to earn a decent living but most of the time they remain unattended, subjected to myriad hardships in the form of poor living and working conditions, identity crisis, lack of basic amenities and other citizenship entitlements. They spend most of their lives in makeshift homes along pavements and in very congested settings such as slums with overcrowded places and unhygienic conditions which ultimately increases the chances of spreading disease(s) among the whole community.
Similarly, the mobility issues associated with their frequent transits affects the registration process which hinders their accessibility to various entitlements and subjects them to further deprivation and marginalization. Thus, the need of the hour is to critically address their underlying issues and challenges with foundations built on rights-based approach and consider them as equal human beings like the rest of the population and who deserve fair treatment and equal participation in society.
Author: Syed Wasifa Kamili. Research Scholar, Department of Social Work, University of Kashmir.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and does not necessarily reflect Alfafaa’s editorial views