The crisis of migrant labourers, triggered in March 2020 after the COVID-19 lockdown in India, is still persisting. But what’s clear is that the country and the migrants would take a long time to recover from this crisis and go back to normal.

Though the country is going through the unlock phase, the rising number of coronavirus cases is imperative to regional lockdowns and slowdown of economic activities. This condition is going to affect the migrant labourers the most who have been left without jobs and income and pushed into uncertainty. These are the most vulnerable ones who can easily be trapped by human traffickers in an attempt to feed their families.

According to a recent survey in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the plight of these workers is much beyond our imagination. This survey divides the migrants into three broad categories.

The first group consists of skilled workers who had land and monetary assets as well as documents to claim benefits from government schemes. The second group consists of not-so skilled labourers who have some assets and are somewhat protected during these uncertain times. The third group comprised of workers without any skill or assets and these people are in maximum danger of falling into debt or bondage or even human trafficking, in an attempt to survive.

These people also lack the necessary documents to obtain government benefits and this section of people is conditioned in a way that they can think of nothing beyond debt and bondage. They unwittingly fall into debt as they aren’t finding any other employment and have no other option.

According to a member of the Human Liberty Network, Mr Bhanuja Sharan Lal, while several government schemes have been brought up to aid daily wage and migrant workers, most of them remain out of reach for returnees due to absence of documents and land and stigma among the local community. He further added, “The survey also showed a fall in access to institutional deliveries, preventive healthcare, financial benefits and education.

These deprivations are factors which lay the breeding ground for social injustices like human trafficking and bonded labour to spread within vulnerable communities. In such a circumstance, falling into the net of human trafficking and debt bondage is highly probable for the underserved ones caused by the increased financial dependency on their employer.”

The closure of schools has also posed a threat to the children of these communities who are reportedly being exposed to child labour. The survey by the Human Liberty Network also revealed that the village schools being turned to quarantine centres poses concern as first-generation learners might drop-out in the fear of infection, and join labour with their guardians.

Several stories have been found where children, who visited schools in the hope of receiving a mid-day meal along with education, are not able to get the take-home rations (due to restrictions imposed on movement during the lockdown). As their parents have lost their temporary jobs, our future generation is being deprived of even two square meals.

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