As the Modi shuttered down a nation of 1.3 billion citizens with only four- hour notice and then extended this lockdown three times (we are in the middle of lockdown 4 now), millions of migrant workers in India are facing an uncertain future. With no work or wages, thrown out of their dwellings and with no roof over their head, they began their long journey toward their home states by walking.
A government that organized flights to bring back Indians from other countries did not immediately organize buses or trains within its borders. Millions of migrant workers had no other option but to hit the highways on foot. Commentators have called it the largest migration since the Partition of India. The pandemic outbreak had turned India into a humanitarian crisis; stories of misery have unfolded every day over the last two months.
The story of Jamlo Madkam, the 12- year old girl, who died just short of her home in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, after walking nearly 150 km from Telangana. The story of Priya and her three young daughters walking with tears in their eyes from Delhi to Kanpur, 475 km away. The story of Virendra Singh Gond, the only survivor from the group of 17 men- 16 of whom were run over by a train in Aurangabad, as they slept on unused tracks, exhausted after walking for days from Jalna in Maharashtra, towards Madhya Pradesh.
The story of Seema, her husband, and three children walking from their workplace in Haryana to Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh; their form of transport coming to naught and being turned away 3 times from the state borders. The story of Gurang Sah at Bandra station in Mumbai, struggling to board one of the Shramik trains that the government finally started for the migrant workers, whose mobile fell in the tumult of lathi- charge and dashed his hopes of boarding another train.
It incorporates thousands who battle it in hospitals, health workers and frontline workers who have been at their tasks at great personal risk, often without PPEs, hundreds out of thousands are thrown out of jobs and livelihoods, rural Indians in deeper distress and millions of migrant workers are virtually forgotten by the government. Most walked and suffered the few who could access trains weeks into the lockdown were squeezed for money by the middlemen. It is nothing if not a story of misery, unimaginable wretchedness, heartbreaking despair. If India woke up to this, if the government is nudged into action, it’s because some journalists relentlessly focused on these stories.
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Much to Mr. Vempati’s discomfort, the CEO of Prasar Bharati, this is “journalism of misery, because misery is the story here. Pain, despair, and uncertainty of millions of Indians greatly overwhelm all else, this is who we are as a nation right now. You cannot control- alt- delete it or overwrite it with journalism of hope. Even if you did, it cannot simply lift the entire masses of India to normal.” If journalism did not tell this story, it would be less than journalism. We need this journalism of misery so that we can do something even if it means donating money for a ration kit that the NGOs are distributing across the nation. When journalism records misery, it’s only doing its job, fulfilling its purpose. At its barest minimum, journalism is a record of the society at a given time, a mirror to the society. When millions of Indians face pain and despair, to deliberately focus on stories of hope would mean a renunciation of the core purpose of journalism. It isn’t that journalism has not captured stories of hope and resilience, but the focus has been on stories of misery, which is should be the main focus now.
The histories that have led us from slavery to feudal oppression to monarchy to fascism to Nazism to Stalinism to theocracy to indeed the authoritarianism that now seeks authority in many parts of the world do not permit the luxury of rejecting the idea of democracy. And, yet our current experience brings home with force once again the need for social and political movements whose objectives must be through peaceful, informed, determined and sustained practice, to bridge the gap between the constitutional abstraction and the people who are living in pain, despair and subsisting in inhuman conditions.
The coronavirus pandemic did not bring this misery, the government’s response to it did. If we do not look at it in the eye, we would be less than human. It is to be hoped that the unbearable suffering we are witness to, can become an opportunity to reinsert masses of disempowered citizens’ inti India’s Constitutional Democracy.
Source: The Quint