Some visuals tell a Thousand Tales: Dateline Muzaffarpur

A Tragedy like no other

India’s rich kids are in their homes enjoying their share of cartoons  on television. They are being fed the best of nutritious supplements so that they can tide past the Coronavirus pandemic. Many are even doing online classes to emerge wiser and more stronger as professionals. The mother in most cases is ensuring that each and every need of the child is taken care of even as sometimes she herself is having an emotional meltdown owing to the growing burden of stress at home juggling multiple chores. For these children, privilege is not just a word but it is tasted.

As I logged on to the online world for my daily dose of social media addiction, I suddenly spotted a tiny tot, playing with a sheet which seemed to be lying on the body of a woman, whom I presumed was fast asleep. Lo and Behold! This was not the usual image from home but a railway station in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. This kid was busy enjoying his semi clad merrymaking as he tried to tug on the sheet or at times quietly cover himself, aping Casper the friendly ghost. 

But here is where the tragedy of these visuals sink in. This was a woman who was a migrant who boarded the train from Gujarat to move to Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Even before the 23 year old woman and her bundle of joy could reach their destination, she was dead. Dying of dehydration, hunger and extreme heat, all that the toddler could do was to nudge the body so that his mother could miraculously spring back to life. But Alas! that was not to be. The child desparately awaits his mother to respond repeating his pulls and nudges, until a grown up child drags him away.

These visuals have now emerged as the most heart wrenching scenes to have played out during the Coronavirus pandemic that has hit home. The stark reminder of the tragedy unfolding comes at a time when daily reports of migrants stranded have only increased.

A resident of Katihar, Bihar the woman had been travelling onboard the Shramik Special Train at Surat in Gujarat. The body was removed by family and laid on the railway platform. The video was shot on May 25.

Deaths on board Shramik trains have fast become a common occurrence, given the penury that haunts many of those who are moving base. In a short span of just two days nearly seven migrants and children have died during train journeys. Starved and stressed, the delays have further trebled the problem. More than 1.5 million migrant workers have returned to Bihar by Shramik Special trains so far. Many have fallen sick due to lack of food and water while on the trains amidst a heat wave sweeping large parts of northern and western India.

Meanwhile there are multitude of images that have grabbed the interest of the nation. Be it an infant crying of thirst or hunger, a tired kid riding a trolley, two sisters covering up their baby brother from heat among others. There is also a story of how a two-year-old child also died.

Of the lakhs of migrant families who were left in the lurch, most were seen hitting the highway to reach home. Tragic though it may seem, India in lockdown mode had only death and despair for them. Walking thousands of kilometres cycling, riding autos or moving on trucks. The life of many was cut short because of road accidents or from hunger and exhaustion.

With the migrant issue turning into a political hot potato, the government started special trains to take migrants home. Availability of food and milk remains a concern. 

As lockdown phase 4 gradually winds up, the railways thus far has ferried over 48 lakh migrant workers on board 3,604 ‘Shramik Special’ trains since May 1, according to official data. Of the maximum movement from where trains originate are Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh  and Bihar. Started since May 1, the Shramik trains chug along.

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