SUCHITRA | 4 JUNE, 2020
This Government Has Made Me a Writer
Somehow, the workers reached home
Nilkanth Yadav returns to his village after a year. In the last three months of extreme struggle, in attempts to get back from Delhi, since the day an unprecedented lockdown was announced, Yadav has had to battle a lot of grievances, none of which were answered by the government he once believed in.
Now he is back home, worried as to what will come next, and how he will feed his family.
Yadav was quarantined at the Rajkiya Prathmik Vidyalaya at Girsoli, Sarath, where he says there was no food or a clean place to sleep. There was no luxury of distancing. His family was sending him food. Doctor’s visits were scant and just for show, he believes. “I was asked to wait at the school for 14 days but my test happened only on the 12th day. They asked me to stay till the result came back.” However, there was no sign of the result and six days later, his family tired of travelling, he returned home.
According to reports, many compulsorily quarantined workers in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have fled quarantine after complaining about the lack of food and unsanitary conditions.
Nilkanth Yadav is 21 years old. He writes poetry, and often also twists Rahat Indori’s poems to fit today’s narratives, saying it helps with the pain he feels. He wants to become a journalist. He used to work in a factory in Narela, Delhi to fend for his family back home in Deoghar, Jharkhand.
“Iss sarkar ne hume lekhak bana diya,” he says – This government has made me a writer.
He sends me some of his poems from time to time:
“dharm-majhab ke nam per ladte the lekin
koi aspatal ke liye nahi lada
aaj lockdown me sare mandir aur masjid band hai
sirf doctor aspataal khula hai”
(They/we’d fight in the name of religion but
no one fought for a hospital
today all the temples and mosques are locked down
only the doctor’s hospital is open)
He last received wages from his employer on March 25. For the two months since he has been let down by multiple system failures. He called his factory owners multiple times, and they all said they could give him money only if the government pays them. “Humare desh mein ameer log toh bohot hain, par dil ke bohot gareeb hain,” he says – Our country has a lot of rich people but they’re all poor at heart.
“ham haq mang ke badnaam ho gaye aur
voh hamara haq loot ke uske naam ho gaye,” he writes.
(We were humiliated asking for our rights and
they looted our right and became attached to it)
According to a report by the Stranded Workers Action Network, only 6% of a group of 10,929 migrant workers stranded across the country had been paid some amount of money by their workplaces. Approximately 78% of the workers surveyed were not paid at all.
Of the 16,863 workers who contacted the voluntary organisation, approximately 60% are daily-wage labourers at factories and construction workers. 11% are domestic workers and 16% are self-employed in various small business establishments.
Yadav is one of the many workers not paid by their employers. He hasn’t even received the amount of Rs.1000 due to all migrant labourers.
This refusal to pay wages often stems from the apathy induced by capitalism. Labour laws being scrapped, the Chief Justice declaring, “Why do workers need wages if they have food?” All of these point to a serious wave downwards on humanitarian values when it comes to recognising these violations of labour law and labourers’ rights.
Amid the lockdown and coronavirus fears, most of his group of 800+ migrants had to pay rent, despite repeated directives to landlords from the central and state governments. Some men from his group paid up to 3,500 rupees a month, with barely enough left for themselves, leave alone to send back home.
When Yadav contacted the nearest police chauki after hearing an announcement by CM Kejriwal that he was sending migrant workers back home, the inspector said, “Contact Kejriwal only, I don’t know anything.”
He tried contacting the SDM of the area but to no avail. When asked, the SDM, T.N. Meena, said “I am unaware of any landlords asking for rent, everyone in my area is very cooperative.”
Tired of contacting different government bodies, Yadav and 12 other workers decided to rent a minibus. They were asked for Rs.90,000 amid the lockdown. Nilkanth, penniless and hopeless, borrowed from a friend and slipped from having no money to being in debt.
Somehow, the workers reached home.
He used to be a Modi supporter, but questions his beliefs since the lockdown. “Modi ji thali pitvane ki jagah agar humari thali mei kuch paisa dalte toh hum pravasi mazdoor zyada khush rehte.” – If Modiji instead of banging on plates had put money in our plates, we migrant workers would be happier.
Even when confined in the quarantine centre, Nilkanth says he called the BDO, Saket Sinha, who told him it would take some days to get the test results back.
A friend of his who works in Tamil Nadu called the Member of Parliament from Dumka, Sunil Soren of the BJP, for assistance on getting back. Yadav says his friend was asked why they move to other states in the first place.
“Well, if the state governments provided us with any employment we wouldn’t have to leave our homes.”
Nilkanth Yadav and others like him are struggling against a deep systemic failure. “Gareeb ka kaun sunta hai madam? Humko bahar jane ke liye majboor kaun kiye? Yahi sarkaar.” – Who listens to the poor, ma’am? Who forced us out of our homes? This very government.
A failed government, a commercialised healthcare system and an apathetic administration have driven these workers to hopelessness. There are countless others like them, let down by a system that denies us our rights.
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