The Global Trajectory of Covid-19 and the Bihari Migrant Laborers

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According to the union health ministry, India registered the biggest single day spike of Covid-19 cases on 25 May 2020 taking the country's tally to138,845, with the death toll climbing to 4,021. The patients’ recovery rate is claimed to be 41.57 percent.

In a country of 1.3 billion people, the number doesn’t seem to be bad, still. Contrast this to the United States, a country of 350 million people, where the coronavirus-related death reached nearly 100,000 in a span of three months -- an average of more than 1100 deaths a day.

In advanced Western countries, the statisticians and health experts have tried to classify the types of lives lost. Greater percentage of death has been found among people with pre-existing conditions (which could be anything from high blood pressure to diabetes); the older people mostly living in long-term care homes (largely because of inadequate care). Then, people of color (the blacks and Latinos: primarily because they are poor, un-insured and among the frontline workers exposed to the virus). Then comes a horrifying category of victims to the virus -- the health care providers themselves who were physically fit but got themselves, their children, friends and relatives infected.

There have been numerous casualties as a fall out of the pandemic. In an astonishing case, for example, a health care professional got admitted to the hospital with infection, came out with full recovery and then decided to take her own life because she wasn't able to endure the pain around. A large number of colleagues and relatives of the deceased in other cases complained of inadequate supply of Personal Protection Equipment, ventilators or medical masks. Sadly, in their own interest, they were all denied the tearful moment to say goodbye to their loved ones.

In India, the numbers provided by the government authorities are always suspect. All the cases aren't certified and reported and, therefore, numbers aren’t tallied accurately. The tests are also not as widespread as, say, in South Korea or Taiwan.

Whereas the fear and agony of this pandemic are the same around the world, the countries have responded according to their specific problems caused by this disaster and their capacity -- financial or otherwise. Widespread lockout, self-isolation and social-distancing seemed to have worked, of course; but, at a very heavy price. Densely populated poor neighborhoods, refugee camps or slums are still a major source that could keep the coronavirus multiplying internationally.

For countries like Brazil, the problem appeared to be out of hand. When a disaster of this magnitude hits hard, it can result in social and political instability. Brazil is a typical example. Even the latest repressive action against Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China can be seen in this light. Against an international push-back especially from the USA, the Chinese dictatorship is flexing its muscle both domestically and internationally.

In India, the overwhelming movement and dislocation of migrant laborers has presented an unprecedented challenge of its own kind. According to the railway ministry, more than 3000 trains were pressed into service to commute the evicted and on-the-road laborers from their places of lost jobs to their villages or small townships. Plane loads of students, professionals and Indian nationals had to be brought back into the country.

Many heart wrenching, but courageous stories have been reported on the Bihari migrant laborers with families making their way home: hordes of them setting upon the 18000 miles long journey on foot; two partners with disabilities putting their resources together and tri-cycling all the way from Mumbai. A girl, with her father riding behind, pedalled her bike from Delhi, earning special mention in a tweet by Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the current US president.

These members of the Bihari society must be aware that, while heading home, they were walking into an uncertain future. The government or the community of their home state would not provide them with a gainful employment or an indefinite financial support. In fact, it was their remittances that kept the family back home afloat; they contributed to the economy of Bihar as well. But, in a desperate situation created by the pandemic, they thought of no other place than their home in Bihar.

Now, they must also be realizing that they would have to go back eventually to their places of work in the metropolitan cities to earn a living. Unfortunately, they will also have to reconcile to going back to densely populated neighborhoods or slums where filth, plastic wrapped garbage dumps in puddles or open sewer and spitting will be the breeding sources or careers of viruses.

Covid-19 has delivered a bitter lesson to the rich that they weren’t safe if that situation exists in their neighborhood. The pandemic recognizes no boundaries.


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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