Can there be class bias and discrimination in dealing with lockdown issues. Can there be class bias and discrimination in dealing with lockdown issues?
The Government of UP is sending a fleet of busses to fetch over 9000 students belonging to Uttar Pradesh, who are stranded in Kota Rajasthan. They had gone there for coaching. Rajasthan 's Chief Minister wants other States to take back their students in a similar fashion. Mr. Nitish Kumar, the Bihar Chief Minister, justifiably raises a red flag and calls it a gross discrimination and breach of lockdown principles. It is pointed out that the migrant labourers are not given the same privilege. I am not against bringing back or evacuate the stranded students or citizens and ideally it should be done. But it disturbs, when large contingent of poorest migrant labourers and their small kids are made to walk 100s of kilometres in the name of lockdown policy.
Earlier large number of Indian 's were evacuated from Wuhan, Iran, Italy, etc by sending special aircrafts, at the expenses of the Union. They were quarantined in comfortable centres and eventually went home. When it comes to the Indian labourers stranded in the UAE, the Union has case of non-evacuation. The inconsistent approach shows a perceived apathy towards labourer as a class.
We have seen how the migrant workers were forced to stay put wherever they were and lathi charged for wanting to return to their homes . Why was a special train not arranged for enabling them to return to their homes? Same treatment was meted out to migrant labourers in Surat and Bandra. Their desire to return in these trying times is surely natural. Why are we quiet at this gross discrimination and breach of equal treatment in a situation of equal threat to life? Why top political leaders of important political parties are silent on this? Is it because the migrants are poor and downtrodden and their desire and voice has no meaning for India?
Is Article 14 dead during corona war? Is it because students are relatively richer, related to politicians, bureaucrats, well to do and belong to the middle class and hence more equal and more dear than the migrants. Life is life, all lives are as godly. Governments across party lines think otherwise. Is this our spirit of humanity? Students could also be fed in Kota. Just as the migrants. Some student got infected so the students and their wards were fearful and pressured the government to send the busses. Will these students being brought back not become spreaders?
It seems the migrants, being work force, would be needed to kick start the economy. So they are needed by the nation to remain where they are against their "choice ". They are thus denied their rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Nine Judge Bench judgement of Supreme Court in Aadhar case is of no avail. They are poor, so they must sacrifice for the nation. Their sacrifice is no less. The working of the Constitution of India does not come to the aid of the poor in the same way. Here Classifications is made, not to equalize, but to perpetuate inequality in matters of life and personal liberty. Overseeing the functioning of our Constitutionalism has become anti- poor, anti-marginalised.
And what about proportionality. If a migrant worker wants to go home and not to work, can he be compelled to work. Many workers are women with children. They wish to be with their families in their hamlet amongst their kindred. What is the difference between the children of these God forsaken and the Kota children? Only poverty.
A migrant worker is a person who moves to survive and bring back home some financial succour. And this is the harvest season. A time when migrant workers go home to do harvesting and engage in agriculture labour. Their small crop beckons them, but they are restrained, if you go back, you can spread virus. Kota versus Bandra&Surat exposes our system and the 'Rule of Law'.
Views are personal
Author is a Senior Senior Advocate At Supreme Court of India.