Orissa High Court ruling on migrant labour neither fair not just

Asymptomatic carriers of the virus will test negative. And yet Orissa HC has decreed that migrant workers cannot get back to the state until they test negative. Why rely on unreliable tests?

Orissa High Court ruling on migrant labour neither fair not just
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Umesh Sharma

Every morning these days brings with it a bright hot sun, blue skies, bird songs and shocking tales of dehumanisation of human behaviour disguised as news.

The surprises are relentless and even senses have gone numb. And yet, an occasional story manages to shock one to the very core of one’s being. All this for a virus that is repeatedly touted by experts as fatal in less than one percent of affected patients! One such story needs to be looked at carefully.

The Orissa High Court on Thursday said only those migrants who test negative for COVID-19 should be permitted to enter the state. A bench of Justices S Panda and K R Mohapatra were hearing a petition on the return of migrants. They said, “State Government should ensure that all the migrants who are in queue to come to Odisha should be tested negative of COVID-19 before boarding the conveyance.”

This forced the Odisha government to immediately cancel permission given to other states including Gujarat, to transport stranded labourers by train. This development has come at the end of 45 days of their being stranded away from their homes.

It is not as if Coronavirus has left the state of Odisha untouched. On the morning of 08 May, the day this news item was published, Odisha has recorded 245 infections and 62 deaths. Like all the other states across the country, Odisha Government has also made arrangements to tackle its share of infections.

These migrants are bona fide citizens of the state and had left their impoverished homes in search of jobs and earnings to support their families. Now when they are jobless and without any money for more than 45 days, it is but natural that they wish to return home and face the pandemic with their families around them. Lordships, in this background, stopping them from returning home is not justice.

Tucked away inside the same newspaper is an item that MHA has given its nod to Odisha Government for construction of Jagannath’s Rath (Juggernaut?) in preparation for the famous Rath Yatra. The Centre has left it to the State Government to take a call on holding the annual Rath Yatra, usually attended by more than 10 lakh pilgrims, from 23 June.

Rath Yatra signifies the return of Lord Jagannath, along with his elder brother Balaram and sister Subhadra to their place of birth via their aunt’s house for a period of nine days, and their triumphant return to the Jagannath temple on the tenth day. Is it not an irony that the Lord also gets to go ‘home’ but the poor migrants remain stranded on the basis of a court judgment?

Already, the vile virus has made nations lock their borders, entire states lock their borders, entire cities seal their borders, and within the cities, keeping entire colonies, roads and lanes sealed with no movement in and out of them. All this lockdown, when experts say it is possible to be asymptomatic and yet be spreading the virus.

Instead of fighting the contagion with whatever we have, we are trying to keep it out of our respective nations, states, cities and boroughs. And keeping the populace confined, shutting down almost all economic and productive activity. The economies of nations are collapsing like ninepins. Their social fabric is in tatters. And now, even human dignity is trampled underfoot, in the stampede to keep the virus ‘out’.

When man is shut out of everywhere, the only place he longs to be is his own home, howsoever impoverished. He wants to face the vicissitudes of his times at his home, in the company of his kith and kin, in the hope that he will be able to tide over the crisis, and eventually start life anew. And if even that is not possible, to meet his eventual end surrounded by his own.

Is this not the definition of human society? How correct are such decisions then? One cannot live with dignity nor can you die with dignity.

One is reminded of the Urdu couplet of Mirza Ghalib:

Bas-ki dushvār hai har kaam kā āsāñ honā

aadmī ko bhī mayassar nahīñ insāñ honā!

(It is difficult for everything to be simplified/ It isn't easy even for man to become human)

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