“When our megacities spat out the workers”

India’s Prime Minister extends the curfew, worsening the plight of the poor. Modi asks employers for help. The writer Arundhati Roy describes the current migration movements in drastic terms.

Feeding the homeless in New Delhi during the Corona crisis

Indien extends its three-week curfew by another three weeks until May 3rd. Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned on Tuesday morning in his third nationwide address on the corona crisis to help the poor and hungry. Modi urged employers not to fire anyone. Even in good times, India would have to create 12 million new jobs every year in order to provide a job for all those who are entering the labor market.

The World Bank warned that South Asia will experience the lowest growth rate in four decades this year. From April 20, it will be examined whether the curfew can be relaxed in those regions in which the cases of infection are decreasing. On Tuesday, India counted a good ten thousand coronavirus cases with an extremely low test rate.

In India, 90 percent of workers are employed in the informal sector, with no contracts or insurance. Many of them live from hand to mouth. Even the government’s own census showed that 87 percent of all companies in the country worked informally, completely outside the tax and social network. Due to the “lock-down” of the country since March 24th, tens of millions of people are without work or income.

Government critic Arundhati Roy achieved world fame in 1997 with her first novel
Government critic Arundhati Roy achieved world fame in 1997 with her first novel “God of Little Things”.: Image: AFP

Many flock back to their villages; the fear is great that if the lock is lifted, the train will increase back to the country. But there is no health care there and the virus would spread even more. On the other hand, the National Association of Restaurant Operators has just warned: “There is a threat of social unrest” if the curfew is continued. Rob Subbaraman, chief economist at Bank Nomura, had already heard the same thing last week: The respected economist warned that, in the worst case scenario, India could shrink by 4 percent this year: “Growing unemployment, the loss of income and disaffection with politics draconian measures could lead to social unrest. “

After four states had already extended the curfew independently over different periods of time, Modi had only the choice between two evils: The curfew, which was extended by three weeks, may slow down the enormous spread of the virus in rural areas; But the Prime Minister of Asia’s third-largest economy with its almost 1.4 billion people did not offer a solution for the country’s poor. They have to help themselves to a large extent, but cannot do so if they are not allowed to leave their huts. At the same time, the harvest is now beginning in some federal states – but the farmers are not allowed to go into the fields.

The successful author Arundhati Roy, who is critical of the government, describes the consequences of the extensive curfew for the have-nots: “It works like a chemical experiment that suddenly highlights the hidden. As shops, restaurants, factories, and construction closed, as the rich and middle class retreated to their fenced off colonies, our cities and megacities began to spit out the workers – the migrant workers – as an unwanted bunch.

Many who had been thrown out by their employers or landlords, millions of impoverished, hungry, thirsty people, young and old, men, women, children, the sick, the blind, the handicapped, who no longer had a place without public transport, set off for one long march home to their villages. They hiked for days (…) – hundreds of kilometers. Some died on the way. They knew they would come home and potentially slowly starve to death.

Maybe they even knew that they could carry the virus, but they were desperate because they needed their families, their parents, protection and honor, but also food, if not love. While they were marching, they were brutally beaten and humiliated by the police, who were supposed to strictly enforce the curfew. (…) Driven by the fear that the fleeing population would carry the virus into the villages, the government even closed the national borders to pedestrians. ”In the meantime, reports are increasing that there are long jams of food trucks at the inner-Indian borders .