Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the rapidly spreading of the coronavirus pandemic. The sudden move left lakhs of daily wagers and migrant labourers across the country without jobs, shelter, and food. The lockdown which came in effect just four hours after the prime minister's announcement didn't give hundreds of thousands of poor labourers enough window to arrange resources to survive during the 21-day lockdown period.
Moreover, the public and private transport services were also shut and they were asked to stay where ever they are. Even though many believe the lockdown decision was taken out of panic, it was a necessary measure to contain the deadly coronavirus pandemic. However, India's coronavirus lockdown without any preparation turned out to be a human tragedy as it triggered an exodus of migrants workers, who walked hundreds of kilometers to reach their native villages from sprawling Indian cities.
Some of them never made it to home, while many others were stopped, humiliated and chased away by police. On the other side of the lockdown, luxury buses were arranged for influential and rich people.
The two sides of India's lockdown
Logesh Balasubramani, one of the lakhs of migrants workers embarked on a 500-kilometer journey from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu. He was left without a job, shelter, and food. With almost no money, Balasubramani had no other option but to undertake an arduous journey back to his native village on foot. He couldn't make it. He collapsed and died while resting at a shelter home in Secunderabad. There were 25 others with him and many more across the country who are forced to walk back home.
And if someone tries to ferry these migrant workers in their vehicles transporting essentials, he faces the wrath of the country's police force tasked to implement the lockdown. In one such incident, a group of young men in Uttar Pradesh's Budaun town was forced to hop down the road with bags strapped to their backs.
But this is just the one side of the lockdown. There is another where rules don't apply and lockdown doesn't matter.
The other side
Around 1,800 influential Gujaratis were stuck in Uttarkhand's Haridwar when the sudden lockdown was announced. Some of them reportedly had links with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. According to a report published in the Dainik Bhaskar, luxury buses were arranged for them after the personal intervention by the Home Minister.
While migrant workers of Uttarkhand were forced to walk back home on foot, Chief Miniter Trivendra Singh Rawat took the task of sending the rich Gujaratis back home upon himself. Several luxury buses were arranged by the state roadways to safely take these people to their homes in Gujarat. Even the Uttarakhand transport minister had no information about it and the entire evacuation was handled by CM Rawat.
Influential Gujarati group could beat lockdown as Govt arranged luxury buses for them frm Haridwar,even though there were strict instructions for people to stay where they are.— vijaita singh (@vijaita) April 3, 2020
And those who ferried the poor in Delhi face criminal cases #passportvsration https://t.co/IdGwsh5ldO
When questions were raised why buses are being arranged for the select people when lakhs are stranded across the country, the state government announced that these buses will bring Uttarakhand people stranded in Gujarat on their return. However, that too didn't happen.
On March 28, when Mukesh Kumar, a native of Uttarakhand who had worked in an Ahmedabad hotel, got to know about the Uttarakhand roadways buses coming to Gujarat to take them home, he got excited. Although Mukesh's employer had arranged food for him and other workers, he was left without any money and wanted to be with his family in this situation of crisis. He, along with 13 other migrant workers boarded the bus but they were asked to pay 18,000 Rs in advance. With no other option, they somehow arranged the money and paid to the driver. However, the bus driver left them in Haryana.
At around 3 am in the night, when the bus reached near the Haryana border, the bus driver told Mukesh and other people that the police won't allow them to ferry people and asked them to cross the border on foot and then he will pick them from the other side. They did that but never found the bus driver on the other side of the border. The same thing happened with many others who took the other buses of Uttarakhand Roadways. When the rich were aboard the bus, no police stopped, but when the poor were inside, all of a sudden, the lockdown came into effect once again.