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Migrant Workers in Lockdown: OmVed Gardens Reaching Out

Tragically, with unknown mortality and incalculable distress, in this crisis all have been forced to change. Each realising that our own wellbeing relies on all of us thinking about each other. In ordinary times, as city dwellers, we get by, by not showing too much interest in our neighbours. In today’s crisis we now realise that people who usually go unnoticed are in fact the ones we should be celebrating.

One such invisible group is the migrant worker, the Others, who live on the edge of our societies in temporary accommodation, moving often out of necessity, living in the gaps.

In rural northern India the subsistence farmer or landless farm labourer has little chance of employment outside the rainy season. After the kharif crop harvest, whole families migrate, looking for job opportunities and subsistence in the cities. These migrants are socially deprived and poor, having had little to no education with minimal or no assets. They migrate to the cities where the majority work is in the construction industry and are thus exposed to harsh and precarious tightropes.

The 21-day lockdown has inadvertently exposed the extreme vulnerability of their lives. The construction sector contributes around 9% of the country’s GDP and employs the highest number of migrant workers across India, with 55 million daily-wage workers. Every year, around nine million workers move from rural areas to urban cities in search of work within construction sites and factories.

The lockdown left many migrant workers stranded without employment and no means to pay their rent, buy food and, without transport, unable to return home. To understand their plight in detail Jan Sahas, an NGO working with migrant labourers, conducted a survey of 3196 migrants. 55% of those they reached out to earn between 200- 400 rupees per day (100 rupees is £1) to support an average family size of four. 42% of the workers mentioned that they had no rations left even for the day, let alone for the duration of the lockdown. Many were more afraid of starving than of catching Covid 19.

For over 2 years we have been working with Jan Sahas to support their work with migrant workers on malnutrition in pregnant women and infants. We are now supporting about 900 families through this lockdown period.

Appreciation for the people that we cannot do without is slowly dawning on us: farmers, supermarket workers, transport workers, delivery drivers, teachers, construction workers, garbage collectors, road sweepers, and of course all the health care workers working in hospitals, clinics, care homes in the community and people’s homes. There are many more and together we form an ecocosm living within the larger ecosystem of our planet.

How can we learn from this crisis to move forward with more appreciation of the interconnected importance of a community as opposed to individuals only?

By realising that being connected is not dependent on being nearby or far away. Unseen doesn’t mean insignificant. Our personal wellbeing springs from the collective wellbeing.

To act in our daily lives in pursuit of this. In our choices, decisions and our strides. All our wellbeing springs from our eyes wide-open inclusion of others.

See below for the full Jan Sahas report.