What it takes to be a Migrant Woman during COVID-19.
COVID-19 and all the stories about the pandemic have, in all honesty, gotten to my nerves. However, the inhumane treatment of the migrant labourers across our country could not have gone unnoticed. Intrigued, I started reading about the narratives of the migrants who are stuck between being financially devastated and away from home. But, the main aspect of the news pieces that got to me was the sheer lack of women-centric narratives in all of reporting, except a few stories.
Corona comes to us as a boon in a way that it has managed to highlight the ever-widening economic gap between the citizens of India which is topped with a negligent government that is, in my opinion, overlooking it. Making up to about 80% of India’s workforce, the migrant labourers are one of the highly affected strata of our population if not the most; and the pandemic intertwined by our government’s policies on their movement has evidently hit them like a truck, bringing the lives of millions to a sudden standstill. So much so that even the United Nations showed its distress over the plight of the internal migrants. Even though several non-profits and government sponsored shelters have been trying to help the distressed, the inhumane policies and unequal and unjust treatment of the labourers have started highlighting patterns of the apathetic slavery.
I could go on and on about the atrocities against the lesser privileged in this country, but, as the title reads, this article is about some narratives that go unnoticed no matter what; even when a pandemic hits. When it came to calling out perpetrators of the #BoisLockerRoom chatroom, there was no lack of stories being put up, articles being shared and the unequal and sexist narratives being brought to forefront, and rightfully so. However, when you do a simple Google search about women migrant labourers and their plight, the lack of content appalled me.
The national lockdown was an expected and good decision taken by the government but the loosely planned policies and lack of transparency was bound to bring about questions and unrest from those who would be at the bottom, yet again. The need to return to their villages is a justified one since we’re all in the middle of a pandemic; however, this right has been kept away from the less-advantaged for long enough. These decisions saw uproar from the labour class all across the country, from the streets of Delhi, to the Bandra station of Mumbai and even protests in Surat. But most stories all across us seem to have a male-centric narrative, even when statistically women have a very high representation in the migrant labourers count.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say, considering all connotations of the caste and gender filters in India, that women migrant labourers fall at the bottommost level in the male dominated hierarchy of work and livelihood. This position in the social hierarchy, by default, brings along the misfortunes in their lives, be it economical, health-related or mental. The plight of a migrant woman is rarely addressed, be it a pandemic or not. Most women migrant workers in urban spaces are either runaways or tagalongs. The privilege of choice seldom crosses their path and this lack to options and opportunities are not demography specific, it prevails all across the country.
If we take a look at the current situation, the bare minimum coverage that women migrant labourers have gotten will tell us that women have resorted to walking back home by foot and not the minimal transportation available for labourers. And, in all honesty, if I were in their place, I’d opt for the same. The answer to the ‘why so’ is very simple; safety is more important to anyone than anything else. The sheer lack of safe means of transportation for women travelling solo in this country is not just sad but also shameful. Imagine being stranded alone with no money or food or even a shelter in some situations and still have to worry about being raped. When compared to men, women have a lesser stamina to be able to walk hundreds of miles at a stretch. Those women travelling by foot with or without their families along with luggage are bound to be more weary and weak; but, even in such a situation, they will have to avoid taking lifts from strangers because of fear. Fear of being left alone in an unknown place, fear of being raped, fear of losing their bare minimum belongings, fear of not surviving. Hygiene is another aspect that is far from being considered in the current situation. Women labourers who are stranded or are walking to their villages are exposed to constant heat and dirt. And, those who are menstruating during these situations or are pregnant, their situations are far from my imagination. Afterall, periods don’t stop for a pandemic. The limited monetary situation also keeps them from using safe products that will not have repercussions on their health in normal times; leave alone during COVID-19. The lack of income also results in most women barely eating and gaining the nutrition they need.
Migrant labourers are rarely taken into consideration and women labourers suffer the most because of this. Even though the Supreme Court has instructed the governments to provide sanitation, water and hygienic facilities in shelters along with food and other basic amenities, a lot of migrants are still deprived.
The key questions to address here are Why are women migrants’ narratives not coming up as much? What factors are we not taking into consideration when we give up on these narratives? Is it safe for women to be travelling in public transportation, especially now? When will all jobs be gender inclusive and safe? Will the pandemic bring a change in why women travel to urban spaces?
The virus has definitely given the migrants a sudden and much needed spotlight. Perhaps the pandemic will bring to forefront the disadvantages of the lowest of the low. Maybe it won’t and we will continue neglecting their presence in our lives.