Letter to the Prime Minster on Migrant Women
Mr Narendra Modi
Prime Minister of India
With the lockdown imposed due to the Covid19 pandemic many migrant workers continue to go through deep despair. They feel abandoned between the choice of dying of hunger in the cities of work or risking the arduous journey home often on foot. Statistics are aplenty to show their plight and the context in which they travel.
While we are happy to note that the government finally initiated the availability of transportation to take migrant workers to their homes after 60 days of lockdown, we are deeply concerned by the extreme difficulties faced by these migrant travellers, especially the women. To begin with the process to even get a place on a bus or train is fraught with endless procedures and glitches which is gruelling for these people who have already endured so much of stress.
On Monday 25th May, a 23-year old woman travelling with her toddler and other family members arrived in Muzaffarpur dead. She was already weak from lack of food and the endless tension of waiting to leave Gujarat to get home. The absence of access to food and water on the journey coupled with the unrelenting heat wave in North India, (and probably even nursing her toddler), finally sapped the life out of her.
Does this poor woman’s life matter? To us women it does! With her limitations she has contributed her mite to the economy of this country. Women contribute to the caring, feeding and cleaning that enables the entire labour force in India to turn up for work each day. It is mostly unpaid or low paid work which does not figure in the GDP figures of the country. They are part of the workforce engaged in construction work, street vending, rag picking, in cleaning the streets etc that all contributes to keep our cities functioning smoothly.
According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18, approximately 88% of total women’s employment is informal in India. With the lockdown due to the Covid19 pandemic, a sizeable number of these women were left to struggle to survive the deprivations they face with the loss of employment and earnings, and therefore desperately tried to get back home to their villages of origin.
This is what majority of migrant women workers faced in India under lockdown. Covid19 has deprived them of safety, security and the right to privacy. In many places men and women are kept together in shelter homes or centres where women’s basic necessities are not met.
In this situation we the members of the undersigned women’s movement demand:
That the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, the Home Ministry, Ministry of Railways and under the coordination of the Prime Minister and public transport corporations of the different states ensure that safe and healthy transport is provided especially for women migrant workers of India.
That the government provide migrant women basic access to food, water and working toilets during their journey.
That the women are provided sanitary pads, soap and water needed for maintaining menstrual hygiene.
That the police and protection officers be instructed to adhere, with sensitivity and diligence, to existing laws on domestic violence.
We insist that the Supreme Court directives on the migrant workers are followed without lapses so that our fellow humans who are struggling to survive can be treated with great dignity and respect; and that the deep inequalities in the Indian social fabric that have surfaced during this pandemic be addressed.
Dr Aruna Gnanadason, ICWM National Convener,
National Team: Dr Kochurani Abraham, Marcia D'Cunha, Rev Dr Jayachitra Lalitha, Dr Joycia Thorat, Dr Lalnghakthuami, Sushma Ramswami, Sr Julie George & members of ICWM
Drafted by Virginia Saldanha (Member of the ICWM Media Team)