Anger as migrants workers sprayed with chemicals

Migrant workers wait to cross the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border on May 16. Photo: UCAN/Bijay Kumar Minj
Migrant workers wait to cross the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border on May 16. Photo: UCAN/Bijay Kumar Minj

NEW DEHLI (UCAN): Church leaders, activists and political parties in India’s capital, New Dehli, expressed shock at reports of migrant workers being sprayed with chemicals by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation to disinfect them.

A video that went viral on social media on May 22 shows migrants queuing for medical screening outside a school in Lajpat Nagar, South Delhi, before boarding a special train during a sanitisation drive.

“We condemn the act and I feel sorry for migrant workers who are already under great stress returning to their native places to avoid Covid-19 and fighting hunger and disease,” Father Jaison Vadassery, secretary to the Conference of Catholic Bishops’ of India (CBCI) commission for migrants, said.

“Nobody in a civilised society will appreciate it. Whatever the reason, it is major shortcoming of the authorities who are responsible for such an act,” he said.

“When the entire world is fighting a deadly disease, migrant workers suffer the most because after the pandemic spread many lost their jobs, many became hopeless and were forced to return home. If society treats them like this, it is very unfortunate,” the priest said.

This is not the first such case in the country. A video on social media showed health officials from the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh spraying disinfectant on migrant workers on March 30.

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On May 7, two employees of Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow Municipal Corporation were suspended for spraying disinfectant on migrant workers at Charbagh railway station.

Father Vadassery said that when the prime minister, Narendra Modi ordered a national lockdown , on March 24 and asked people to stay inside their homes to contain the outbreak, it triggered a mass exodus of migrant workers who now face uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) blamed the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that rules the country for the act, saying the BJP-ruled municipal corporation’s behaviour shows that it doesn’t consider poor workers as human beings.

Raghav Chadha, AAP national spokesperson, termed the action a criminal act by the municipal corporation’s workers.

“Spraying disinfectant on people can lead to irritation of the eyes, skin and potentially gastrointestinal effects like nausea and vomiting. Inhalation of sodium hypochlorite can lead to irritation of the membranes of the nose, throat and respiratory tract and cause bronchospasm,” Chadha said.

Nicholas Barla, coordinator of Adivasi Samanwey Manch Bharat, an organization advocating tribal rights, said that all society “must condemn this inhuman act. How can they do this? It is unimaginable.” 

He added, “Migrant workers should be respected and cared for, especially during this time when they are more vulnerable.” 

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The mass exodus of migrant workers from several states during the lockdown has become a humanitarian crisis, with hundreds walking along roads and railway tracks after ignoring government pleas to remain where they are.

On May 8 in the Aurangabad district of the western state of Maharashtra, at least 16 migrant workers were mowed down by a goods train while sleeping on a railway track, while at least 100 people have been killed in road accidents across the country.

The railways have so far run around 1,500 Shramik Special trains since May 1, ferrying over 1.7 million migrant workers from various parts of the country to their home states.

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