By Robin Gomes
“We write to you as pastors from Jharkhand whose people have been serving often in very humble but faithful ways throughout our country,” Church leaders of the Archdiocese of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, appealed on Saturday.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, limiting the movement of the country’s 1.3 billion population as a preventive measure against the spread of the Covid-19.
The lockdown that followed a 14-hour voluntary public curfew on March 22, caught millions of migrants and daily wage earners off guard, leaving them no time to return home.
Stranded in lockdown
“These are difficult times and even as we live in lockdown and make every attempt to keep ourselves safe, thousands of migrants are stuck where they are, not knowing where to go or have hit the road with their families and children without transport, monetary means or alimentary provisions,” said the appeal signed by Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi and Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.
Like Mary and Joseph with ‘no place’
The bishops noted that many of the stranded migrants who are in trouble are from Jharkhand. “While we are all worried about our own safety,,” they said, “these poor people are the ones suffering the brunt the most.”
“Many have become like Mary and Joseph with ‘no place’”, the bishops said, adding, “the darkness faced by these migrant populations is much thicker and distressing than ours”.
Many “are trying to come back to their homes because they have now become a burden to people they were serving, sometimes with very less incomes.”
Care, concern and safety
Ranchi Archdiocese suggested several ways of how the Church in the rest of the country can help stranded migrants. It can advise people to treat all migrants, irrespective of religion, language or group with “care and concern”. Local Churches can lobby with state governments and local administrations “to identify and help these poor people”.
While the affected migrants can be provided shelter, accommodation, meals and clothing in Church institutions, their families back home need to be contacted, assuring they are safe.
Keeping these migrants “safe is important for staying safe” the bishops said, noting, “if these people become exposed to Covid-19, the rest of the country will be even more vulnerable”.
Jharkhand is rich in minerals, accounting for more than 40% of the country’s resources, yet 39.1% of the state’s population lives below the poverty line and 19.6% of children under five years of age are malnourished.
With 24% of the people living in cities, Jharkhand’s population is primarily rural.
With basic infrastructure and incoming generation scarce in the state, the option of migration often appears to be an attractive option.
According to the Economic Survey of India 2016-2017, the net outflow of the working-age population of Jharkhand was the highest among states in the country. The state lost close to 5 million of its working-age population between 2001 and 2011 due to migration.
More than 5% of the working-age population migrates annually to other states in search of better employment opportunities, education or because of loss of traditional livelihood.
Several studies show that people of Jharkhand migrate to both rural and urban areas of different states of the country.
Neighbouring West Bengal state serves as a home to the highest number of migrants from Jharkhand.
The rural farm sectors of states such as Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra attract migrants from Jharkhand. The state is also seen as a prime source of domestic maids and servants, especially in Delhi and the adjoining national capital region.