Once we recover from corona pandemic, we needs to rethink how we treat the poor and what changes we need in our communication system. If digital and economic gaps are not filled, we would always remain vulnerable. This is warning and cannot be kept on hold
We have read in our books “India is Poor” but its poverty was not as much visible as it is amidst Corona pandemic. Continuous movement of labourers in lockdown time has shook India. Migrant labourers are marching towards their hometowns on foot or whatever other means they can get hold of.
To some labourers this walk to hometown, turned into walk towards death. Labourers said that before Corona, hunger and thirst would kill them. About 22 deaths of migrant labourers are reported because of continuous walking with no food, no water. Why poor India did not stay where it was? Inspite of continuous flow of information about complete lockdown in media and measures governments have initiated to provide them shelter and food? News channels, newspapers and social media bombarded India with all kind of information about corona still labourers did not pay attention?
The answer is, in 21st century of technology too, there is a class in India with negligible communication reach. Labourers do not have television, they do not read newspapers because of obvious reasons ; they do not have means to access to social media and other means of communication. Radio are out of fashion and use, they do not know how to use internet for news. Few have smart phones. And many of them do not know how to read or they do not understand the market induced language of media. In a place like National Capital of Delhi which is media-saturated and full of information overload, still lakhs of these people were in deprivation of crucial information of life and death.
Media messages failed to reach labourers and thus the risky walk to home began. Also the struggle to earn bread butter on daily basis pushed them to walk back to their homes. As no work is available in lock down. Lakhs and lakhs of migrants workers across the country and other people working in informal sector, were deprived of the means of their livelihood and were forced to make a move to their ancestral homes.
Herbert Marshall McLuhan said “Medium is the message” and the labourers did not have the medium and so the message did not reach them. Social media was flooded all kind of information, newspapers and television channels were booming with government advertisements, calling upon people to stay where they are. But the message failed to reach the target audience-the labourers- and then they were branded as “brainless creatures, spreading corona”, only few empathized with labourers. Privileged class is posting pictures of workouts and everyone is chef in quarantine days but we forget that labourers struggle to earn food on daily basis. They do not have any access to media and the shadow of hunger was looming over their head, still the elite failed to grasp the reality.
We need to understand that without a good communication system we cannot deal effectively with a pandemic like Corona. On 31st of March, Supreme Court suggested media to carry out special bulletins to inform masses about “Corona pandemic”. These bulletins could not reach a huge population in India, which still struggle for food, water and shelter. Mobile, internet, television are secondary for this segment of our nation.
Special arrangements were made to bring back Indian nationals stuck in foreign. But these ‘unfortunate’ labourers were not given any such facility rather branded as ‘demons’ – irresponsible towards ‘national duty’ in the time of national crisis. Many labourers walked home with empty stomachs with their little kids. This treatment reveals priorities of government and society at large that include the ‘civic society’.
Huge inequality in wages, digital divide caused chaos in the time of a pandemic which could only be controlled through quarantining people. This marginalised community had no other alternative; they were scared of hunger so they walked back to home. And in this journey many lost their lives. India has a poor health care system and thus quarantine becomes the only solution to break the chain of COVID-19. The movement of labourers is due to India’s negligence of a good communication system.
India should not only remember of this ‘march’ of labourers but must analyse it in the context of its impact national economy of a ‘welfare state’. . As soon as world recovers from corona pandemic, India needs to rethink how it treats its poor and what changes we need in our communication system. If digital and economic gaps are not filled, India would always remain vulnerable. This is warning and cannot be kept on hold.
Renu Kotwal is pursuing Master’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Central University of Jammu