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Indian Migrant Workers
As COVID-19 spreads throughout India, it is revealing the country’s systematic inequalities as Indian migrant workers bear the brunt of the pandemic.

The Lockdown

India’s national lockdown began on March 25, 2020. It went into effect a mere four hours after the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, made the announcement. However, Modi’s order did not consider the impact it would have on migrant workers. As a result, millions of migrant workers were jobless and stranded in cities all across the country. Shareen Joshi, a professor at Georgetown University, spoke to The Borgen Project. Joshi described how the lockdown “appears to have been imposed to benefit India’s middle and upper classes in urban areas. It literally ‘forgot’ about 350 million migrant workers.”

Consequently, thousands of migrants had to make the dangerous journey home. With public transportation shut down, some walked hundreds of miles, often without proper protective gear or the ability to practice social distancing.

“The virus is basically systematically exposing inequalities and fault-lines in every country it seems to enter,” Joshi said.

The Pandemic Highlights Underlying Inequalities

Indian migrant workers are already a vulnerable population. They rarely belong to trade unions or work under contracts. Additionally, many migrants lack the bank accounts necessary to secure government benefits. Although the Indian government offers welfare for those below the poverty line, migrant workers often do not know how to access this relief.

Indian migrant workers were among the first to feel the economic consequences of the virus. An April 2020 report by the nonprofit organization Jan Sahas, titled Voices of the Invisible Citizens, stated that “90% laborers (approx.) have already lost their source of income” within just three weeks. This complete financial depletion left, “42% of labourers” with “no ration left even for the day, let alone for the duration of the lockdown.”

The virus has also aggravated discrimination against Indian migrant workers. Joshi stated that migrant workers represent their own “scheduled castes” within India’s caste system. Many consider migrant workers as possible carriers of the virus. Fearing infection, their communities shun them upon their return home.

Rebuilding the Economy and Addressing Inequities

As India begins to rebuild its economy, Joshi recommends “a bottom-up strategy, people-centric rather than money-centric.” This strategy would have the government invest in individual villages to create a trickle-up effect.

Moreover, this strategy would aid the Indian migrant workers. In March 2020, the president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, proposed that district collectors help migrants who cannot afford shelter and that the government provide transportation for migrants to get home. Joshi described a proposal to make ration cards portable. This would allow migrants to “access food in both the location they are registered and the area where they work.”

While this pandemic has brought unthinkable suffering to Indian migrant workers, it may also inspire a new fight for equality. Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch, believes the pandemic might provide “an opportunity to end communal bias and­­­ other discrimination in governance and restore the impartiality of state institutions.” This pandemic has shown, if nothing else, the need to address the inequalities that have plagued India.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

influential women
Female entrepreneurs, activists and politicians are making strides in overcoming global inequalities. These four influential women are presidents, CEOs and founders, garnering support for female empowerment around the world.

1. Michelle Bachelet was the first female president of Chile. After leaving the presidency, she became the first executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). In 2013, she was re-elected as president of Chile, winning by a landslide. During her terms, she targeted trade relations between South American nations and the Asia-Pacific.

2. Sonia Gandhi is the president of the Indian National Congress and the leader of the United Progressive Alliance, the ruling party in the lower house of India’s Parliament. Her high-ranking position wields great political influence. Gandhi’s humanitarian work has led her to be awarded The Lions Humanitarian Award in 2010.

3. Wendy Kopp is the CEO and co-founder of Teach For All. She founded Teach For America in 1989 “to build the movement to eliminate educational inequality by enlisting our nation’s most promising future leaders in the effort.” Thanks to Kopp, more than 10,000 Teach For America corps members are teaching worldwide for two-year commitments.

4. Helene Gayle is the president and CEO of CARE USA, one of the nation’s leading international humanitarian organizations. CARE’s efforts reached 122 million in the past year in more than 80 countries. Gayle works to empower women and young girls through policy and advocacy efforts. Further, Gayle works with the Centers for Disease Control on HIV/AIDS, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues, and currently serves on the boards for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Rockefeller Foundation, Colgate-Palmolive Company, ONE, and the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. Among this and a more extensive work history, Gayle’s work is enormous in addressing global inequalities.

– Lin Sabones

Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Lions Club International, Teach For All, Forbes
Photo: Princeton Social

Currying political favor has always been a primary motivator for social benefits — or so the cynic might say — but is that really cause for complaint?

In India, the government has recently passed an ordinance, the National Food Security Bill, aiming to provide subsidized food to nearly 70% of the population.  This food security ordinance could go a long way towards addressing the number of malnourished children in India — which exceeds that of any other country in the world. Critics, however, claim that the measure, passed by ministers as an ordinance when it failed to win parliamentary support, is simply an attempt to gain political favor ahead of end-of-year elections, and further, that India can’t afford to maintain the subsidies. Both arguments carry weight. Sonia Gandhi, the chief of congress, has called a meeting next week between party leaders and state heads, to discuss the speedy implementation of the ordinance. The fear of the ruling party is that opposition controlled States will oppose the new legislation and prevent its implementation before elections.

The food bill poses a complex issue. It will cost nearly $24 billion a year and will be one of the world’s largest welfare schemes, a significant drain on government resources. But the converse is that 800 million people, 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population, will be able to purchase subsidized grains. The plan proposes providing rice at a rate of six cents a kilo, wheat at four, and millet at two. For families living in extreme poverty the move will be hugely significant.

The aim of the Indian Congress will be to begin subsidies in Delhi on August 20th, with the remainder of Indian states to follow before the end of the year. And while the rush to initiate the program may be due to maximizing the political gain from it rather than assisting the malnourished population of India, the end result will nevertheless be the same.

– David Wilson

Sources: BBC, Daily News & Analysis India