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The Exodus of Wealth Creators

We will do well to remember that these wage workers, we look down upon, account for 50% of the GDP and create wealth for this ungrateful nation and its people.

Photo Courtesy: The Economic Times

Ordering a flippant lockdown and asking people to stay home and practice social distancing is nothing sort of a dream for a country where 56% of the rural population is landless (has no landholdings).


India's population of 1.3 billion was given less than four hours' notice of the three-week lockdown on Tuesday (March 24, 2020). After the lockdown was announced, rich people across the country quickly thronged shops and pharmacies amid fears of shortages while millions of poor migrant workers have been left jobless, without money, food, shelter, and basic amenities to safeguard oneself from the virus.


It has sputtered an exodus of daily wage earners from Delhi and Mumbai, where thousands of migrant workers are setting out on long journeys by foot back to their home villages.


Sketch by Anarya, Instagram/sadak.chhaap.ladki/

Remember the twitter salutations for the government and air India for air-lifting Indians from various parts of the world? While the government was in an absolute hurry to airlift affluent class stranded abroad due to the closure of borders, the same government was not at all concerned about millions of people walking long distances to reach their homes.


Sketch By Susruta Mukherjee and Saswata Mukherjee (Instagram/bob_almost and almost_boddy)

Is it not because these wage workers can run no trend on twitter against the government? (This also shows the internet disparity and inequality of information access.) Is it not because the lives of these daily wage earners do not matter to the people in power and those who are on the top of the pyramid? Is it not because these people have no connections in government? Is it not true that these people are mere statistics, their lives merely a cheap labour for factories, government and companies for economic prosperity?


Why do these lives not matter? Why is no one held accountable for the mass exodus of our wage earners, backbone of churlish Indian economy?

How would one fathom the idea of physical distancing (wrongly called as Social Distancing) for millions of poor who do not have the luxury of a roof over their heads and enough money to stock up food for even 1 day, leave aside 21 days?


While the government wants people to ‘socially distance’, the deep message of their language is also to morally distance itself from the ground realities.


Sketch By Susruta Mukherjee and Saswata Mukherjee (Instagram/bob_almost and almost_boddy)

We will do well to remember that these wage workers, we look down upon, account for 50% of the GDP and create wealth for this ungrateful nation and its people.

Our governments across states and the Union have abandoned an entire section of the society during a pandemic. The factory owners, contractors, real estate businesses are all complicit in this crime.


Picture Courtesy: The Week

There is a section of people who would like to think of themselves as elite, educated and well placed in terms of civic senses and duties. These people look at Facebook, Instagram posts and watch news about thousands of migrant workers walking barefoot with their luggage on their back, women carrying their children (some of them are very young ones) and these self-obsessed educated people term the migrant workers as illiterate, uncivil just the way colonial masters did once to Indians. Little do these privileged colonial prince and princess realize that if it was not for their privileges, the inefficient and corrupt government would have abandoned them, too, to struggle for food, shelter, and water on the streets of New Delhi and Mumbai.


Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Are these young children not the future of this country? Are their lives just statistics unlike the lives of children born in rich families? Has this extended lockdown not revealed our true character of deep-seated discriminatory mindset to treat people based on their economic status?


What does dignity even mean for our daily wage worker?

How is it justifiable in a democratic country like ours to classify the lives of people in order of preference cognitively and very consciously based on financial and social status? How do we even consider ourselves a democracy?



I often wonder about the ethos of our democracy. The unapologetic cabinet ministers keep mocking the offices they represent. For instance, the apathetic minister Prakash Javadekar posted a photo of himself watching Indian epic Mahabharat on the national broadcaster and claimed that Indian epics- Mahabharat and Ramayan were being telecast on public's demand.


One would ask if providing essential medical kits, masks, ventilators, test kits and equipment to front line health workers were not public's demand?
Illustration By Aravinda Tegginamath (Twitter:@arvindtm)

Similarly, BJP President Nadda posted a photo of himself (in luxurious Lutyens bungalow) distributing 10 food packets among the security personnel. How can a person who lives in a house funded by the taxpayer, eats food paid by the taxpayer, enjoys the highest possible security cover paid by the taxpayer and gets a salary paid by the taxpayer, mock people by offering 10 plates of food and promote himself as saviour and act as if he is doing a favour? Are politicians living on taxpayer's money, not parasites and utterly ungrateful to the people who elected them? How shameless and inhumane can these politicians be?


Our system is anti-people and designed to fail the common citizens. It only knows the tools of downright violence, discrimination, intimidation, beating, and coercive measures to solve a problem.

For the system, the people are a problem and so the default action and attitude of the system to solve the problem is to get rid of the people themselves. Hence, the undignified treatment by police and government and their sheer apathy for the wage workers are rampant during this time of humanitarian crisis.


Photo by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Let us look at some data now. India’s 93% of the workforce is in the unorganized/informal sector and just 7% in the organized/formal sector. However, it’s a pity that most of the debates on labour issues in India, including the provision of social security & workplace challenges, actually revolve only around 7% of the total workforce.


Unlike the benefits of formal jobs such as the contractual periods of service, regular hours of work, leave and insurance benefits, the informal jobs are highly insecure, uncertain and vulnerable.


The Periodic Labour Force Survey (2017-18) tells us that over half of all those in the informal workforce is self-employed, another quarter work as casual labour, and the remaining are wage workers or salaried workers.


Data illustration by Piyush Fozan

With liberalization which was expected to integrate the workforce into the formal sector, the sub-contracting among universal employers and big multinational companies has increased. This only widened the informal sector and big companies could evade the obligation of providing employee benefits to the workforce hired on contract or through the third party.


The largest informal workforce exists in the real estate sector where the working conditions are even worse. The contractors, who are supposed to register every worker, do not comply with the rule in most of the cases and workers are either left out of the registration process or wrong names or fraud names are registered. The contractors take advantage of the illiteracy and lack of awareness among the informal workers. Therefore, even if the government decides to give cash handouts to workers to ease their hardship, it’s highly unlikely that the benefit will reach the deserving beneficiary.

Illustration: The Economic Times

It would not be an exaggeration to say that a large part of the problem arising from coronavirus pandemic is a self-inflicted crisis.


Illustration By Aravinda Tegginamath (Twitter:@arvindtm)

Just imagine the situation when the laws were enforced to integrate informal workers and register every worker, their bank accounts opened, and social securities provided for; the situation would have been different. The national highways and bus-stands would not have been full of helpless migrant workers. But the nexus between the corrupt government officials, politicians, and private sector looters is stronger and the will to eliminate this partnership in crime among political leadership is nil.


Why?


Why is it that the politicians are not afraid of losing in elections despite imperiling the lives of millions of workers? Because our elections are devoid of real issues and politicians thrive on the divisive issue of temples and mosques and religious polarization. These morally corrupt politicians know that people have no political alternative and real issues have no place in electoral democracy and so, they will continue to flourish and skirt accountability.

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