The long, arduous journeys that lakhs of migrants undertook in an attempt to reach their homes amidst the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic.
The lockdowns brought restrictions to people’s movement and social distancing guidelines. The access to money and other resources were impacted because of the disruption in manufacturing and supply chains during this period*.
The perception that cities are home to everyone was shattered when the first COVID wave hit. Everyone wanted to go back to their roots. Some amongst us, the so-called urban populus were privileged to just sit at home and look at the unfolding crisis from our TV screens.
Migrants returning home after the national lockdowns were announced (2020)
The suddenly imposed lockdowns left people unprepared for the next few months. In the urban areas, 87% of the self-employed workers reported loss of employment. The rural areas were the worst hit where 66% of casual workers lost their livelihood*.
Even as the migrant families decided to go back home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, one interesting thing to notice was how the women of these families wore their best saris with jewellery and makeup for these journeys. Their desire was just to look their best selves upon their return to their families and homes. In start they had no idea of how arduous and painful these journeys would prove to be.
A migrant father carries his tired daughter home (COVID-19)
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide and presented an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and the world of work. More than 8 in 10 migrants (81%) lost their employment during the lockdown as compared to 64% employment loss among non-migrants*.
For some of us lockdown was a date, a date until when we had to stay indoors, work from home and wait till we could finally go out again whilst for many others it meant complete loss of livelihood. Think about the children, they were too young and naive to understand the pain their parents had to go through when they carried them back on their shoulders to their native lands.
Description: A migrant family travelling back home from the city, trying to put all their belongings in their one rickshaw. (COVID-19)
Context: During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, a survey found that more than 8 in 10 respondents in urban areas did not have money to pay the following month’s rent. 41% respondents in urban areas reported that they had to take loans to cover daily personal expenses*.
Insight: When a disaster strikes, an unprecedented one like the COVID pandemic, they are compelled to leave everything behind, things that they had gathered over the years, forcing them to run back to their villages. The family in this picture had to somehow pack their whole lives in this rickshaw and forced to cover a long distance in the hopes to reach back home, the place which might provide safety. This is the story of not just this family but of countless others who were left abandoned amidst the pandemic to fend for themselves.
Description: The family of a juice vendor at the Delhi-Faridabad border, leaving the city amidst the freshly announced lockdown measures.
Context: (2020); Small businesses, usually the ones run by migrant workers, had to be closed down during the pandemic which led to permanent closure for most. In India, a recent survey showed that more than 82% of small businesses were negatively impacted by COVID-19, with manufacturing sector at 87% and services sector at 78%*.
Insight: This family from Sirsa, Haryana, had come to the city and earned their livelihood by running a juice stall. Their two children were studying in a Delhi school, a feat that their parents had accomplished after working day and night, but now the kids were returning to the same village that they left a long time ago. Their biggest regret was the defeated dream that they had dreamt for their children that by studying, they would be able to build a future for themselves and not live the kind of lives that their parents had lived. They started their journey on this same juice stall, even as they were forced to leave behind the elderly who could not take part in walking back home. The mother said, “Ab hum wapas nahi aayenge” (We will not come back now).
Description: The packed lunch of a migrant family as they travelled back to their village during the first COVID wave.
Context: The COVID-19 pandemic in India saw massive reverse migration. 7 in 10 urban migrants in India did not have enough money even for a week’s worth of essentials. 88% of migrants reported not being able to pay next month’s rent. More than a third (36%) of these migrant workers reported taking loans to cover their expenses during the lockdown*.
Insight: The cities and its people failed to provide a home to the migrant families. A fateful encounter with one of the migrants brought along a startling realisation when he said, “Bhukha marunga par apne ghar pe marunga”. This statement is a reminder of the mistrust the migrants had on us. We were never able to open our hearts and our doors for the people who made our lives convenient and comfortable.