Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editors: Deepthi Ramadas, Sandeep Suman
Cameraperson: Shivkumar Maurya
On 8 May 2020, 16 migrant workers, asleep on a railway track in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, were run over by a goods train. Do you know, till today, the families of these 16 deceased labourers have not been given their death certificates!
Because of this, their families – who are among the poorest of India’s poor – have got no insurance money, no pension and no land, all of which was promised to them after the death of their dear ones.
Yeh Jo India Hai Na… when did it become so uncaring? Yeh Jo India Hai Na… why can’t we at least offer our poorest, some dignity in death?
Why Were the 16 Migrant Labourers Sleeping on the Tracks?
First, let’s remind ourselves why those 16 labourers were asleep on those railway tracks. For 40 days, due to the lockdown, there had been no trains. And after that, there were too few trains to take the migrant workers home. All over the country, we saw them walking home. Many had no idea where to catch a train.
So, this group of laborers hailing from Shahdol and Umariya in Madhya Pradesh were walking to Bhusaval – a big rail junction 150 kilometres away, near the MP border. They had already walked 45 kilometres and were completely exhausted. They slept off on the railway tracks at night. And then... a train came…
We didn’t care what happened to crores of our migrant workers then and we don’t care what happens to their families even now. This became official in September 2020 when the Union Labour Ministry told Parliament that it has not maintained any data on the number of migrant workers who died while trying to get home during the lockdown. And since the government didn’t know how many hundreds... thousands... who knows... had died, the question of providing compensation or economic assistance to their families “did not arise”.
No End to Red Tapism, Total Apathy...
Yeh Jo India Hai na… we often convert our dead into mere statistics. But for our migrant workers, we have not even bothered to do that! The families of the 16 deceased labourers got their initial cash relief, but after that nothing.
Without a death certificate for Deepak, who was just 25, his wife Chandravati is not getting her widow’s pension. Gajraj Singh, who lost two of his sons that night – Brajesh, 28 and Shivdayal, 25 – too can’t access bank accounts.
They were told death certificates are issued at the place of death. In this case, Aurangabad, Maharashtra.
The District Collector of Shahdol in MP told The Quint they have written to Aurangabad but have got no reply. However, can’t the Shahdol Collector pick up the phone and call the Aurangabad Collector and say, “Look friend, get these death certificates made right away?”
He can, he should, but he isn’t. Yeh Jo India Hai na… yahan par red tape aur total apathy ki koyi kami nahi hai!
And yet, ironically, we’ve seen the government congratulate itself repeatedly for its decisive and sensitive handling of the fallout of the pandemic.
How People Reacted to the Tragedy on Twitter
And it is not just the government that doesn’t care. Let rewind to how several of us reacted to the tragedy. A few were sensitive. Reshmi wrote – “Zindagi patri par waapis aane se pehle.. maut patri par aa gayi…”
But others didn’t care at all. Santosh said – “Let them die.. dharti ke bhoj!”
Some said, “Dimaag se gareeb” and “lacking hygiene, unclean”.
For many of us, India’s crores of migrant workers, who by law, have equal rights as us all actually don’t matter. And not just that, some called the tragedy a conspiracy, some even gave it a communal color.
When primetime news anchors talk about Filmi Jihad, Media Jihad, Corona Jihad and when state governments pass laws against imaginary bigoted concepts like Love Jihad, what can we expect from ordinary citizens?
Luckily, back then, some citizens did have the right perspective. Pratik Agarwal wrote – “Instead of asking why they were walking on the rail tracks, ask why were they walking in the first place.” Another response said – “We ALL have blood on our hands, this tragedy will haunt us forever...”
Yeh Jo India Hai Na… it lost 16 of its citizens in a terrible tragedy. Denying their 16 families their death certificates is simply shameful and a disgrace.