Relief Campaign
Migrant Workers of Jharkhand Stranded in Maharashtra During Lockdown

COVID-19 in India brought doom in its wake for migrant workers. Lockdown was announced without any planning or preparation and without giving any time for making arrangements. Initially the workers could not assess the situation but soon they realized that they and their families could not survive without governmental or non-governmental help. Many people who knew about our Party, especially workers from Jharkhand who had long-time contact with Bagodar MLA Vinod Singh, started contacting us for help. Party comrades very soon realized the enormity of the situation. A Help Lockdown Affected Whats-App group was immediately created to message our comrades and activists in other States for help for stranded workers. Activists in our field of work and members of people’s organizations were added to this group. As a result they got news of stranded workers in their States. The Jharkhand Ekta Sangh became active in Mumbai for migrant workers from Jharkhand. Comrade Sadrul Shiekh played a very important role in this. Initially we were worried how we would cope with this situation, but Comrade Patil directly contacted Collectors and Nodal Officers in Maharashtra and requested them for help with stranded workers.

Daily wage earners, construction workers, garment workers, workers from all sectors reached out for help in Mumbai. The largest number of workers is in Antop Hill, Wadala and Dharavi, and many of these are from Jharkhand. Initially our Jharkhand comrades tried to help them by personally providing rations, but soon they realized that the number of workers who needed help was beyond the level of help on a personal capacity. Their economic resources were finished in just one week. Unorganized sector workers needed help and rations in industrial areas like Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Bhiwandi, Nagpur, Amaravati, Pune and Kolhapur. Comrade Ajit Patil worked out a strategy to know the number of workers, contact them, learn their problems and work for a solution. We demanded that all workers in Maharashtra should receive rations even if they did not have ration cards.

AICCTU leaders in Aurangabad helped about 2000 road construction workers to receive help from the District Collector. Our comrades helped workers in Nagpur and Amaravati. We put pressure on the government to hear the woes and help sugar cane workers in Vidarbha, many of whom are Marathi dalits and Muslims.

We were in direct contact with workers and understood their distress to a great extent and were able to put consistent pressure on the authorities for rations and financial assistance for them. We also tried to put pressure on contractors and employers to pay the workers their wages. Providing cooked meals did not prove practical because it entailed crowds of workers gathering at one place, and often had to face lathi charge by the police.

Garment workers, zari workers, goldsmiths etc. are mostly from Bengal. Naka workers, construction workers etc. are mostly dalits, and a large number of them are women. All the workers were in grave financial straits. Many people had come to the city for treatment of cancer or other serious illnesses, and were now stranded with their families.

The situation changed in the 4th phase of Lockdown. Now all are desperate to go home. Arrangements made by the government were highly inadequate and very complicated. Workers found the online form registration process too difficult. We helped them with filling in the forms as well as following them up, which was needed because of the lethargy of the police and the administration and rampant corruption. Many workers who did not receive help with their forms landed at the railway station only to be greeted by the lathis of the police. Finally, the poor and the helpless workers decided to walk home as there was no other option. Some borrowed money at high interest and started for home in private buses or trucks. Many fell prey to agents who take money on the promise of arranging transportation.

Even today, there are many helpless stranded workers still trying to get home. They need help to get back home. When the workers reach their home State, they need help to get relief and employment. We must plan ahead and see how they can be helped.

-- Shyam Gohil 

Liberation Archive