The issue of home-bound labour

Veteran journalist and good friend TCA Srinivasa Raghavan shared this important piece.

My personal thoughts upon reading it.

Many parts of it appear to make sense and some don’t.

(1) The ones that make sense to me:

(a) “Last week the major unions held countrywide demonstrations, billed to be in solidarity with these circular migrants. But there was no mention of the migrants in their demands, which focused on the withdrawal of changes in labour laws, and opposed privatisation of public sector enterprises. The red flag protests got no coverage at all except on Left-liberal websites.”

If the labour unions did not recognise the issue of their fellow labourers, then the rest of the society is somewhat less guilty of omission. Of course, it proves the belief that labour unions are nothing but clubs acting in the interests of their members (more so in India?) and not for the labour class as such.

(b) Lack of data

(c) Interstate migrant act – too many onerous requirements and hence was not complied with and hence no data with the officialdom

(2) The one that appeared to me, to be an exaggeration:

“P. Raman, describes the “universal, permanent list of pariahs” in the newsrooms of the leading English dailies of the 1980s: “trade unions, Left parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party and rural issues — in that order”. He writes that if there was an all-India bandh, the chief sub on the night edition was expected to know better than to put it on Page 1.”

I don’t think that it is true. Not yet.

For example, ‘BusinessLine’ did not put the labour law amendments made by some States on its front page. However, the opposition to those amendments by labour unions and their planned ‘bandh’ appeared on the front page of the paper as the top news.

(3) A point that she could have and should have made but did not.

The fact that we had Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act and the fact that we had so many labour protection laws and yet, tens of millions of them were outside the pale of them could be precisely because there are so many laws and so little compliance and that the so-little compliance is because of so many laws.

A flailing State makes up for lack of implementation with superfluous legislation.

(4) Lastly, in a way, and I admit that this is not the ideal way for it to happen (but I honestly wonder if it would happen in any other way), an unintended consequence of the lockdown has been the awareness at the societal level of the numbers and the plight of migrant labour. 

The hope is that it sustains long enough for it to bring about some meaningful, qualitative and permanent improvement in their living and working conditions.

2 thoughts on “The issue of home-bound labour

  1. Policy and narrative is still focused on the old problems. No one is taking into consideration issues in conjunction with the ongoing pandemic, considering the fluidity of the issue.

    1) What if Mumbai/MH has a more virulent strain than in some of the presently lesser affected states like UP/Bihar? ICMR is studying this, but why weren’t they commissioned to do this in time and to then make policy (dis)allowing inter-state travel for migrants and non-migrants or to have additional checks?

    2) Why have mandatory quarantine for “migrants” evacuated from Wuhan, but not from Maharashtra which now has Wuhan like numbers? Isn’t it the same thing? UP is sealing the border with Delhi due to seepage of cases. Shouldn’t they do so with more urgency with Mumbai which has more cases than Delhi and potentially a different strain?

    3) Except for the poverty dimension, why are the poorer migrants different from other types of migrants who also haven’t met with their families for months due to lockdown?

    4) Among all the emotional narrative about migrants walking home, etc, can we get ahead of the next round of emotional hand-wringing which will take place when the migrants get hit with another round of misery caused due to contagion spreading to family members (some more vulnerable) and villages in general which have neither the physical or mental capacity to handle it?

    Would examination of these issues have allowed for other solutions like UP paying Maharashtra to keep the migrants there or to test them before journey or to quarantine them institutionally as opposed to the home quarantine currently “recommended”? Majority of the transmission (after large gatherings have been banned) takes place at homes, so home quarantine is not the correct policy. This has been the evidence in China.

    UP is going to have to pay anyway. They are promising aid and employment to the migrants. Why not give aid to migrants while they were in Maharashtra (or pay the MH govt to make the arrangements) where they would have gone back to employment once things normalized? It would help with the bigger half of the equation of employment availability. Incidentally, MH CM is asking locals to step up and work in factories now which do not have labor available. So, the reverse migration was unnecessary not only for economic reasons but for limiting contagion spread, which obviously will cause more pain economic and personal.

    They are now making it a rule that migrants supported by employment programs in UP will need to get clearance from UP govt before being allowed to work in other states again, presumably because UP does not want to lose their investment in them made at this time. How’s this supposed to help?

    When can we get *any* experts at all in this country who can focus on problems not visible today but coming down the pike and at least outline the potential issues. Today it means not just looking at the old problems of migration that “experts” have had visibility on, but to consider the added dimension of the pandemic. There doesn’t seem to be any capacity at all among Indian policy makers to come up with solutions to issues particular to India (they can’t even copy from other parts of S.E.Asia).

    If the west says “social distancing” we say the same, while our slums and daily wage laborers say wtf. If the west says “masks don’t help uninfected people” we say the same. Then they say hang on, it does help, then “maskindia” starts trending on twitter (btw with no attention, directive at all on how all those potentially contaminated masks are going to be disposed of in a country with minimal disposal etiquette). If Italian PM says after a couple of weeks of declining cases, when he has a handle on the issues and treatment requirement and to ease the still jittery people that “we need to live with the virus”, Arvind Kejriwal copies the line and people go gung ho about it when the situation is different in that cases have not yet even plateaued and health capacity is not adequate.

    There seems to be a giant void, black hole of analytical incapability in the intelligentsia. They seem to be more like monkeys aping the west or if we are lucky, critical of the west. I don’t expect much from them but maybe we can ape the east occasionally – Korea/Thailand/Vietnam) which has had a better handle on the problems with similar population density, culture and in some places, same tropical weather. Where are the expert articles on migration issues in Malaysia/China/Vietnam during this pandemic.


  2. Anant,

    I liked it and the let’s hope the wish expressed in the last sentence comes true.

    That part, one sentence stands out : “*Of course, it proves the belief that labour unions are nothing but clubs acting in the interests of their members”. *How true ! The only notable feature may the colour of the club’s tie ! 🙂


    On Mon, May 25, 2020 at 12:41 PM The Gold Standard wrote:

    > Anantha Nageswaran posted: “Veteran journalist and good friend TCA > Srinivasa Raghavan shared this important piece. My personal thoughts upon > reading it. Many parts of it appear to make sense and some don’t. (1) The > ones that make sense to me: (a) “Last week the major unions held co” >


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