Migrant workers battle stigma, bias back home
The workers say they and their families have been singled out, sneered at, and harassed by villagers. In some villages, they face ostracisation even after completing the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.Updated: May 11, 2020, 08:19 IST
Migrant workers returning from India’s industrial states are battling stigma and bias in their home villages in some parts of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha because local residents suspect that the labourers are potential carriers of the coronavirus disease, or Covid-19 .
The workers say they and their families have been singled out, sneered at, and harassed by villagers. In some villages, they face ostracisation even after completing the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
Last week, a group of villagers armed with sticks in Uttar Pradesh’s Basti district allegedly surrounded Shekhar, a migrant worker who returned from Maharashtra, which is the state worst hit by the pandemic.
“The villagers were angry because I had ventured out of the primary school, where I was quarantined, to relieve myself,” Shekhar said. “Okani ke corona ke dar rahal na ta mariye det sa (The villagers were scared of contacting the coronavirus, so they didn’t touch me. Otherwise, I would have been killed that day),” he said, claiming that he had no symptoms of Covid.
In some districts, workers alleged caste slurs were hurled at them because they hailed from lower castes.
Ravi Maurya, a migrant worker from Prayagraj, who returned by a ‘Shramik Special’ train, said, “Most of the villagers who have returned home belong to the lower castes and therefore, upper caste villagers harass us more,” he said, adding that one day he was abused by the upper caste men when he was standing on roof of the house. “They said that I can spread coronavirus even my standing on the roof of my house.”
Dinesh Verma, a migrant worker from Pratapgarh district, said a local grocery shop owner asked his wife not to visit his shop. “I have to request my relatives to help me in procuring things of daily need,” he said.
Migrants in Barabanki and Ayodhya complained of similar harassment. Pankaj Yadav, husband of the village head of Mahadewa village in Basti, said, “The fear of coronavirus has become bigger than the virus itself. This is the biggest problem we are facing right now.”
There were reports of similar discrimination from Odisha and Jharkhand.
On May 7, residents of Sana Aryapalli village in Ganjam district pelted stones at the police in protest against 40 labourers from Surat who were being kept at government school in the village. The police lathi-charged the villagers to disperse them.
On May 9, 12 people from Kandhamal district who returned from pilgrimage in Uttarakhand had to be given police protection to enter a local quarantine centre because villagers were protesting against the centre.
Local village head Ranjan Kanhar said the villagers agreed to keep the 12 in the quarantine centre for the time being. “We will request the local block development officer to shift them to some other quarantine centre as villagers are apprehensive regarding infection they may be carrying,” he said.
Rakhi Singh, an ayurvedic doctor, was not allowed to stay in home quarantineafter she returned from Telangana with her three children . Her husband Sudhir Kumar, lodged a complaint with the police after the local village chief refused to allow his wife to quarantine herself at home, saying he had not received any ‘official communication’ in this regard. The doctor had to spend an entire night in a car.
In Jharkhand’s West Singbhum district, migrants alleged they were not allowed to enter the villages.
“When was taken to a quarantine centre in my village, the locals opposed it saying that I am carrying the virus. They even prevented my family members to meet me. I had no symptoms and I even offered to get myself tested. They did not listen. The police then took me to another quarantine centre,” said 22-year-old Shamu Munda, who was among the first to return from Telangana.
Another tribal in Dumka district, who came back from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Surin Soren, said that his family has been socially ostracised since his return. “They (villagers) claim that all of us are carriers of the virus and will infect them all. They have put barricades outside her house with a poster saying our house is infected with corona,” he said over phone .