How India’s Coronavirus Lockdown Failed Its Migrant Workers
How India’s Coronavirus Lockdown Failed Its Migrant Workers

The abrupt shutdown left India's 120 million migrant laborers in the lurch — states, civilians, and companies had to scramble to their defense.

Indian migrant workers and labourers along with their families stuck in the national capital, with and without protective masks crowd to board buses to return to their native villages (March 29, 2020) (Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)

The scale of India is such that certain descriptors can almost end the conversation. “The world’s largest democracy,” for instance: it laps the second-largest democracy by more than one billion people. Today, India is also home to “the world’s largest lockdown,” announced with only four hours of notice on March 25, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

The most indelible images of the impact of coronavirus in India have not been of the sick but of those in transit, the millions of migrant workers who crammed into bus depots and train stations, hitchhiked, and even walked for days to get home for the indefinite future. What was invisible became visible: India’s economy relies heavily on its more than 120 million domestic migrant workers, who are about one-fifth of the nation’s entire workforce. Stopping in-person business was never going to be a matter of people switching to virtual meetings. The government was aware of this, but f

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