The poor of the world have a nasty habit of disturbing the even tenor of ordered life, the status quo; they threaten the peace and calm when it is least expected of them. As if it was not labour enough for the governments, in centre and in the states, to have evacuated several lacs of those better off Indians by aircrafts and ships, this problem of migrant labours leaps up.

Those who jet around the world in search of profit, those who scour the Chinese markets in search of goods at bargain prices to sell at premium in India, or those who make their dirhams, dinars, dollars in Middle East, US etc., brought the Covid-19 too. Brought it, and then cheated the system, beat the quarantine.

Not a difficult job; it is not much of a system really, porous to corruption and resilient to privilege. Those with influence, politicians, judges, IAS officers got a free pass. Many took paracetamol in the aircraft to avoid being quarantined but Covid-19 is the most democratic of diseases; it spared no one. Having got it themselves, these people generously gave it away to the unsuspecting poor who were at their service, as domestic help, or drivers, or in any number of ways in which poor in their concentric circles make themselves useful to the rich.

The elite nicely quarantined themselves. The entire economic activity had come to a standstill so what to do with these people who had outlived their utility? They could no longer account for their existence. Those who had nicely fit in, in their sardine like existence, posed the threat of community transmission. How could they give it back to the rich, it is always the poor who are the recipients? Troublesome limbs which were better cut off, abandoned!

And then several millions of them erupted like lava during earthquakes, a mass of seething humanity of migrant labours, disgorged from the hidden underbelly of shining Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi. Their slums and shanties spilled out their secrets, well known but studiedly forgotten. And now they are walking, like ghostly shadows in cities, alone and in family strength, carrying all their earthly possessions with them, are spilling like liquified mass of humanity across on highways, along railway tracks.

Migrant workers returning to Bihar from other states amidst COVID-19 crisis.

We never knew there were so many! Why are they forced to undertake the impossible journey of thousands of miles on foot, on a meagre diet of biscuits and water? Nobody seems to know why they have to make this certain tryst with death: starvation, being run over by buses and trains, or sheer fatigue lie in ambush and many are falling every day. Why are they not on the trains which were supposed to carry them?

It is a tower of Babel here; the many governments speak with many voices, sometimes a single government itself speaks in many voices. And now the court of the last resort the Hon’ble Supreme Court has refused to intervene.

Treated like dirt by the system, the wretched of the earth have put their own and the lives of their families at great risk. The misery of the march will earn a few Magsaysay awards for our journalists, those India-baiters who had nothing sensational as yet, will capture some memorable images, but no one, but one will square up to the real answer. In a market driven society, the poor cannot create demand nor step up the market, hence they stand in stark contradiction to the logic of the neo-liberal order.

In a world order which is meant to cater only to the aspiration of the rich and powerful, they are quaint absurdities. Jean Baudrillard has the solution for the poor, in his book America. Attacking in scathing terms the American system where ‘power’ has no contact with the poor he says "…the have-nots will be condemned to abandonment, disappearance pure and simple. Utopia has arrived, if you aren’t part of it, get lost."

India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Pataliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.