‘Dharti Ke Bojh’: No Dignity Even in Death For Migrant Workers

India can’t undo the Aurangabad train tragedy but, we can treat our migrant workers with more respect & dignity.

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On 8 May 2020, sixteen migrant workers travelling home were asleep on a railway track when a goods train ran over them, killing them instantly. I thought, let me see how ‘Yeh Jo India Hai Na’ has reacted to the Aurangabad Train tragedy.

Here’s the opinion of some other Twitterati. One user, Reshmi, wrote: “Zindagi patri par wapas aane se pehle... maut patri par aa gayi.

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We all are aware of the reason behind the migrant workers’ helplessness – no trains for 40 days, and after that, too few trains to take them home. In smaller towns, like Jalna in Maharashtra, from where this group was walking, workers had no idea where to catch a train, so they were walking 150 kilometers to Bhusaval, a big rail junction near the MP border. They were all from Shahdol and Umaria in MP.

The migrants had walked 45 kilometers. Here’s a question, have any of us ever walked 45 kilometers? Completely exhausted, they slept off, and then, the train came.

The Blame Game

But what do some other Indians think about the incident?

Ramesh Kisani wrote on social media: “Citizens are fully aware that walking on tracks is dangerous and illegal. The train did not leave the tracks, these people went onto the tracks.”

Soumitra Shankar is more direct, he says:

Bimaru migrants are too much in excess,” says a Twitter user named OSRK.

Santosh Malik, I don’t mind calling this guy out, he says:

Dimaag se gareeb” meaning stupid, lacking hygiene, unclean, and, “Dharti ke Bojh” says it all. Crores of migrant workers, who work on construction sites, factories, build roads... they just do not matter.

Crores of fellow citizens who, on paper, have equal rights as us – who for Santosh Malik and those who agree with him, don’t matter. “Dharti ke bojh, let them die,” he says.

Luckily, there are people who do have respect for the migrant workers. Afsar Ahmed wrote a poem:

While one Udta Bihar says, “Corona se bach gaye, system ne maar diya.”

‘System Ne Maar Diya’

When the Karnataka CM stops trains, because the builder lobby wants migrants as a captive labor force, that’s the system letting them down. When the Odisha High Court says migrant workers entering Odisha must test negative for COVID-19 and we know that lakhs of such tests just can’t be done, that’s the system refusing to be humane. Nitish Kumar NOT wanting Bihar’s migrant workers back, that’s the system letting them down.

One of the wives of the men killed on the rail tracks said: “5 lakh rupiya muafza ka kya karenge? Iss se kam paise mein mera pati zinda ghar laut aata. (What would we do with a mere compensation of Rs 5 lakh. With much lesser money, my husband could have returned home.)”

But, the system has its fair share of defenders. Within hours, even this tragedy was being spun as a conspiracy and being given a communal colour.

Someone called Saffron Shines, said, “All 15 agreeing to sleep on a railway track... not believable. Conspiracy?.”

Another Twitter user, Bikash Agarwal, said: “Not even one labourer woke up by the noise or vibration... is that possible? Needs to be investigated.”

While Paritosh Arya argues, “Railway track par sota kaun hai bhai... strange? (Who sleeps on railway tracks, strange?).”

Urban hermit MG reasons, “Are we sure they did not commit suicide?”

While Bhudev Sharma and Divyesh Agravat ask, “Were they killed and dumped on the railway tracks?”

Luckily, There Are Those Who Argue Back

I have read out just a few comments, but there are hundreds of fellow Indians believing and spreading such absurd theories.

When you have primetime news anchors talking about concepts like a Jihad Flow Chart, Filmi Jihad, Media Jihad, what can we expect from ordinary citizens? Luckily, there are those who argue right back:

Before you ask ‘but why did they sleep on the tracks,’ remember, you are privileged, they were not.

Pratik Agarwal says and I quote, “Instead of asking why they were walking on the rail tracks, ask why were they walking in the first place?”

The Tragedy’s Defining Image

A picture, of the workers’ rotis (bread) lying on the tracks, has become a sort of defining image of the incident. Sharique Firdoshi says:

While Sapan Siya Kay Cee writes:

Another Twitter user says: “We ALL have blood on our hands, this picture and this tragedy will haunt us forever.”

‘Yeh Jo India Hai Na’, it cannot undo this tragedy. But, if we treat our migrant workers with more respect and dignity, that may help a bit.

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