Majority of the workers who returned, had arrived recently. Nearly half of them were already back in village for the Holi festival, by early February 2020 or before. About 10 per cent of the workers could not be contacted either directly or through their household members indicating their likelihood of being stranded at transit points on their way to the native place from the destination, prior to lockdown.
All the workers stranded at various destinations had places to stay, and 91% of those at their workplaces got two meals a day. But they worried about the dwindling cash, food stock and the duration of the lockdown. While their families, wives or aged parents, back in the village worried about their husbands or sons, and the absence of remittances that sustained the households and helped repay the loans.
Most of the workers did not know about the coronavirus disease symptoms or the preventive measures for the infection. This made them anxious about being infected, fearful that they will die and desperate to get back home with their loved ones.
Reach out to all the stranded workers through Helplines or Civil Society Organisations at the destinations/transit points to alleviate their psychological distress.
Connect them to right resources to ensure continued availability of shelter as well as food.
Ensure that their wages are paid by the employers.
Provide the workers with information and resources to protect themselves from the coronavirus disease.
Cash transfers are more likely to benefit these workers than the measures announced by the Government of India or the destination states given their profile and the nature of exclusions inter-state migrants experience at the destination states.
Families will find it almost impossible to send money during the lockdown owing to the financial constraints. It also takes long and considerable effort for families in remote tribal villages to send money.
Encourage workers to stay back post-lockdown to have a chance at getting jobs. This can improve incomes, revive village economies through remittances, and give them access to better healthcare from Kerala.
Support those who want to return to the villages to do so. Ensure they are not discriminated against or prevented from entering the villages. Provide them with safe and gender sensitive quarantine facilities within or near the villages.
Photographs by Ajaya Behera, Rufus Sunny, Aravind A.R.