The nationwide lockdown has made the migrant workers return to their villages as the loss of jobs threatened their survival in cities. The economic crisis that had fallen over in the country due to the COVID- 19 pandemic is unprecedented. The Central and State governments now face the task of employing migrant workers, which is one of the worst-hit in the society.
The hardest hit in the society of losing jobs is the socially weaker sections, especially belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. They are already the so-called “untouchables” that number to around some 200 million and these people are kept away and showed back at every step by our so-called educated society. Now, these people are at the forefront of the pandemic, with a higher risk of the infection due to their social status, and increasingly discriminated against for the perceived threat of contagion they pose.
From a long time the precautionary form of “Social- distancing” to stop the spread of the virus, is widely spread across India especially in the Hindu Caste system. In one form or the other, the system of segregating people according to their hierarchy has existed in this region for a long time. Out of 4 main groups that make up the caste system, are the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and the Shudras, which includes the Dalits, i.e., the “Untouchables”. The Dalits battle every day to live in this society, they are expected to consider themselves as equal to others in times of crisis, and they should live with the current situation and should co-operate in this crucial crisis when the whole world is fighting a common problem. The question is when the measure of social- distancing can inherently carry the danger of killing Dalits then how can they support it?
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Social distancing and isolation are made mandatory to stop the spread but the concept is familiar to the concept of Indians and is a clear picture of the social custom of “untouchability” which has been practiced since a long time to suppress communities such as the Dalits and Shudras, which was protested by the upholders of the Hindu Santana Dharma.
Discriminated and now Suffering from Corona
The worst affected and the sufferers of COVID- 19 pandemic in India are the Dalits. A disproportionate number of Dalits are working with very meager and least paying jobs like construction work or as janitors or tanners. The Dalits have proved to be vulnerable to this invisible virus for a wide range of reasons; the most prime among them is Poverty. Instead of having a vast affirmative action program that India had put after the independence, majority of them are poor and under the best circumstances, they have limited access to health care or any form of social protection. And now during the pandemic, their situation is worst.
After PM Modi ordered the nationwide lockdown giving only 4 hours of warning on March 23, these people have been found stranding themselves away from their families. Many heartbreaking pictures came up in the last two months of the lockdown where the migrant workers were struggling to return to their homes. A worker was found crying by the roadside of Delhi as he tries to visit his dying son during the lockdown. A 13-year-old girl died while walking back to her village. Dalit migrant workers face extra burden during the pandemic, social shunning by the higher class, even by those who are in the same work as they are. As a result of such shameful work has brought Dalit migrants on roads on foot by probably comforting the higher class of the society leading them to get infected by the virus.
The coronavirus pandemic has made clearer that the Indian Caste System is still in existence. In the eyes of many Indians Dalits are still “Untouchables” in a way that extends beyond current hygiene practices.