Rajat Sharma

How rumours triggered movement of thousands of migrant workers from Delhi

akb3010India TV in its show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night telecasted visuals of thousands of migrant workers from Delhi walking on National Highway near Ghazipur UP border. They were in a hurry to reach their homes.

The most disturbing aspect about these migrant workers is that there was no social distancing, all walking in groups, with their families. They could easily pass on the dreaded Coronavirus. Thousands of migrant workers from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand work in Delhi-NCR, and with the lockdown about to complete one week, these workers, without any work and pay, decided to walk to their native places.

UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Friday spoke to his officers and asked them to arrange for ferrying these migrant workers. He also spoke to the chief ministers of Maharashtra, Haryana and Uttarakhand, where a large number of migrant workers from UP live, and requested them to arrange for their food and accomodation. He promised that the UP government would reimburse their expenses.

There were reports that rumour mongering on WhatsApp played a major role in the sudden movement of these migrant workers. Rumours were circulated that buses were available at Anand Vihar, Lal Kuan and other places, which turned out to be fake. By that time, thousands of workers, with their families, were out on the road, walking. Both Delhi and UP governments have admitted that these workers left their homes because of rumours spread on WhatsApp.

Workers who had made up their minds to stay at home during the 21-day lockdown also fell prey to these rumours. They thought that since buses were available, they could go to their native places with their families.

It is easy for armchair experts to say that the government should have arranged buses to ferry these workers, in the same way that it deployed planes to bring in Indians from foreign countries. The number of Indians brought in planes was limited and utmost precaution was taken to ensure that the virus is not spread.

What can be done with thousands of workers cramming inside buses? Is social distancing possible? Will it not multiply the spread of the virus to unimaginable proportions, with people carrying this virus to their villages and infecting others?

In a country of 1.3 billion people, a lockdown of this magnitude will necessarily bring woes to thousands of people. Lockdown and social distancing were are not by choice. There is no other option to counter the spread of this dreaded virus.

It goes to the credit of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath that he has instructed his officers to ensure that the main purpose of lockdown is not defeated. At the same time, he had told his officers to ensure that these migrant workers are housed and fed in temples, gurudwaras and dharamshalas till the lockdown period is over. Yogi has said that the poor workers were his brethren, they must be given food and accomodation, but they must also follow the lockdown guidelines so that the pandemic does not spread.

Let me tell you, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is working day and night to ensure that this lockdown is successful. Exemptions are being given where it is essential. He is in touch with all state governments. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath is tackling the situation and his efforts should be praised. Most of the people in India are following lockdown guidelines and are staying inside their homes. They are scrupulously observing what Modi called the ”laxman rekha’ of their doorstep.

But there are others, who are gullible, who easily fall prey to baseless rumours. They may be facing hardships but they are risking their lives and the lives of others because of a false sense of bravado. They need to be stopped. Forget thousands, the mistake by a single person can put hundreds and thousands of lives at risk. The mistake committed by a few can harm 1.3 billion people.

I again appeal to all of you: Stay home, stay safe. If you have problems, contact your local police and authorities, they are there to help.

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