Spraying disinfectant on migrants sparks outrage

Spraying disinfectant on migrants working as laborers has caused social media commentators to erupt with anger.

Among those to express their anger is the Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM).

“Even as the whole country is battling an intense and grueling confrontation with the Corona (COVID-19) crisis, we … want to express our deep shock and horror at the treatment being meted out to hapless migrant workers…” says a statement from the ICWM.

A recording of the treatment shows a group of migrant workers sitting on a street in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, as health officials in protective suits used hosepipes to douse them in, prompting anger on social media.

Nitish Kumar, the top government official in the district, says health workers had been ordered to disinfect buses being used by the local authorities.

In their “zeal”, they also turned their hoses on migrant workers, he says.

“I have asked for action to be taken against those responsible for this,” he tweeted.

The ICWM is concerned about the differences in the way people in India are being treated during the COVID-19 crisis.

While it acknowledges the work the Government is doing to bring back stranded Indians from “high risk list” countries, ICWM members say they are bewildered over “drastically different treatment” meted out to those living in the country.

“Those flown in were respectfully screened by health personnel at the airports, whereas ‘powerless’ migrant workers, and their children have been inhumanely doused with disinfectant,” the ICWM says.

The members say Indians watched with “shame and disbelief” as television channels showed migrant families herded out of buses, and made to sit in groups of 50 or more before being sprayed with disinfectants.

“Forget about social distancing, they were sprayed with chemicals,” the members say.

“We can only wonder where and how they will be housed, whether they will be tested for the virus, and treated before they continue to their homes.

“They are not criminals, just Indians anxious to reach their homes in cities far away from their place of work. Some have made grueling journeys, often walking for several hundred kilometers from the places of their employment.

“They are escaping homelessness and hunger in places where they were living as migrant laborers.”

The ICWM also says India’s government is “ill-prepared for the magnitude of COVID-19s impact on migrant laborers and people paid as daily-wagers.”

“Many relief agencies, including Christian agencies and Churches have offered all their help and facilities, but it is not enough. What is missing is a well-coordinated national plan to ensure that every Indian is covered,” the ICWM says.

The organisation is asking for immediate steps from the federal and state governments to ensure humane treatment of all migrant workers.

They have also made a demand for the workers’ immediate rehabilitation, along with compensation.


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