Recently, I read an article on how a migrant worker was wheeling his pregnant wife and kid on a makeshift cart. With no jobs and no future, India’s migrant workforce is returning to their home states, lock stock and barrel. They have always been the hidden force behind the infrastructure progress that rich and industrialized states tom-tom about. It is incredibly heart wrenching to see them left in the cold by their employers, local administration, and society at large. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Our countries great value system that we so adeptly market abroad is now put to the test. Compassion and treating guest as God have all gone for a toss. Instead, we treat our fellow Indians who have come from different states as inferior and lowly laborer’s who can be used and thrown. Shame on us. Every step that these migrant workers take on their way back home is a slap on this country’s collective consciousness. All the pain, helplessness and harassment that they are facing is creating negative karma for those who have used their services and are not standing up for them when they need them, for all those who have not paid them their rightful salary, for all those who just saw it happening and did not do anything to help them.
I understand that the government is fully stretched in keeping things under control. I still expect more from our bureaucracy. Our bureaucrats are one of the brightest in the world. They pass the toughest of competitive exams and are the cream of our educated society. More out of box thinking is required from them and not normal administrative behavior. More is expected from our political leadership, especially in the rich states that are the ‘karmbhoomi’ of our displaced Indians. Leaders in such states need to be more compassionate in handling their guests. Plan for them to stay with comfort in temporary camps, make food available to them, and take care of the sick and the infirm. Please do not beat them if they are anxious and come together to demand answers. It is their right to ask and your duty to provide solutions. Step up, your reputation is at stake. The whole country is watching.
I have a word for the leadership of the home states of these migrant laborers as well. Whenever they reach home, treat your people with love and respect. Make them comfortable and feel loved and needed. Post-COVID, the slate will be clean. Treat it as an opportunity, build your SME and MSME sector. You now have a trained workforce that was earlier available only in other more industrialized states. Utilize the services of your domicile citizens and do not let them leave their homes again. In the end, I can only say to my fellow Indians who are walking on the road to their homes that we are sorry, and our head hangs in shame.
This article is by Prof. Shrihari S Sohani from Organizational Behaviour & HRM Area. He’s currently the Chairperson, Research and Publication at IIM Indore.