The announcement of a nationwide shutdown in India last week led to millions of migrant workers fleeing the major cities, resulting in a huge crowd at risk of coronavirus infection.
The unprecedented 21-day shutdown, which is larger in numbers than in China earlier this year, gave the 1.3 billion citizens less than four hours to prepare, leaving the country in chaos.
With no way to make money, migrant workers who have moved from villages to the larger cities of India are now desperately trying to return home. This battle caused huge crowds at bus stations captured in these videos and photos.
Prime Minister Modi’s 21-day shutdown sparked a massive migration of migrant workers who wanted to return home after they could no longer work and pay for food and bills
Numerous labor migrants flocked to city bus stations to find their way home. People cram on buses where they could, and if they couldn’t, they climbed on top or hung on the sides
People were desperately seen trying to fit in the space left on the buses before they left. Due to the closure, a number of bus and train services have been stopped, which limits the options for people
Speaking to the nation, Modi said, “Don’t forget to leave home for the next 21 days. If you cross the threshold of your house, you invite the virus. He assured his citizens that essential services would continue to exist, but was not sure how people could buy food and other essential goods.
According to international labor organizations, 90 percent of the Indian workforce works hand-to-mouth and works in the informal sector. Most do not have access to pensions, sick leave, paid leave or any form of insurance.
This lack of security and safety caused a rush at the shops with people watching the streets until late at night to get food. Others were desperate to leave the cities and return to their rural homes where they can be with their families and away from the larger population centers with an incredibly high population density.
The queues for the buses ran as long as the eye could see by the side of the roads as people tried desperately to find their way home and the city
Social distance, which is vital to slow the spread of the coronavirus, became impossible because people stopped in buses on the islands. Because of the measure, people have no choice but to return home where life is cheaper
People scramble up the back of a bus to sit on the roof, while others get stuck in the back after not finding space inside
Some passengers were unable to fit on the buses and chose to sit on top of the buses because they were trapped in the city where they will be unemployed for the next three weeks
Statues and images coming from Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi, show huge crowds of people waiting for transportation to leave the cities. A video shows hundreds of thousands of people crowding into a bus station, trying to stuff themselves into the buses that take people out of the city, or even climbing on top.
Another video shows people waiting outside a station until late at night. People are seen desperately climbing over obstacles to stay ahead of the queues. Lost children walk around looking for their parents while people are sitting on the ground, distraught after missing their bus home.
To talk with The Guardian, a day-wage worker Rama who lost his job, polished office floors and described the violent scenes he had experienced at a bus station when he tried to come home. He saw desperate people trying to get home hit with wooden bars used by the police.
“My job has completely stopped, so I have no money to survive and I haven’t eaten since yesterday, so I had to go back,” he said. “But I was not alone. The bus station was packed with people like me, desperate to get out, and it was hell.
“There were crowds and everyone was crushed and pulled out of the way, there was so much violence and the police accused us of lathis.”
“For buses with seats [for] 100 people, 200 people would try to squeeze in, people were sitting on top of the bus and hanging out the window. We all desperately wanted to leave because we can’t survive in Delhi under this shutdown, ”Rama said.
Witnesses have described how the police implemented the lockdown measure with lathis (wooden sticks) to try to control the crowd
People lined up for miles to take the bus home, but many found they couldn’t. Some people have been left home, often hundreds of miles outside the cities where they work
A woman sits among a crowd waiting for a bus home. Fears are mounting that crowds like this will quickly spread the coronavirus among the population, which is now spreading across the country
To make matters worse, some bus and train services have stopped closing, causing even more overcrowding. In some cases, people had no choice but to walk home, often hundreds of miles outside of the cities.
The roads that left the cities soon became filled with people carrying their belongings on dusty sidewalks. Even for them, it was almost impossible to escape the crowds in which the chances of coronavirus infection increase enormously.
A mother desperately reaches for her child when she is passed over a wall by a man outside a bus station while other people are lining up to climb over while waiting for a bus back to their villages
People can be seen walking home with their belongings on their heads after not being able to get on a bus to take them back to their villages
A mother and her three young children take refuge in a pipe along a highway while they wait for a bus to return to their village
Another family is sitting with their luggage on the side of the highway waiting for a bus home. While workers are trying to go home, they may not be welcome as other villagers are concerned about carrying the corona virus
The crowded crowds at Delhi bus stations are the opposite of what Modi meant with the shutdown announced last week, when people in the country were horrified by the events that were happening at India’s transportation hubs.
Not only has the shutdown put some of the most impoverished vulnerable people in India in a situation where they will struggle to pay the rent and food, it also increases the likelihood that the corona virus will spread to both the people of the city and in the entire country.
Anyone who travels and has contracted the virus through close contact with others is now likely to spread it to the more remote parts of India. In response, a number of villages are trying to prevent migrant workers from returning home for fear of carrying the virus with them.
Others have converted school and government buildings into quarantine centers to house the myriad of working migrants returning home, to help control the influx of people and control symptoms.
Public spaces like this sports center in Sarusojai have been converted into temporary quarantine centers to manage the influx of people returning from India’s largest cities and to care for and isolate anyone with symptoms
Prime Minister Modi has announced a $ 22.5 billion aid package to help the poorest people in the country get the essentials they need to live on. The government plans to use existing welfare schemes to roll out emergency measures, including free food and money transfers to people on low incomes.
However, low-paid workers receive 500 rupees (£ 5.30) every month, just a fraction of what they would have earned in the cities.
The Indian authorities are taking tough action against those who violate the coronavirus lock-in measure introduced last Tuesday.
An example of an Indian police chief in Chandigarh, northern India, is that a cricket stadium has been converted into a ‘temporary prison’ to arrest those who have violated the country’s closing conditions.
“We gather people we see hanging out on the street who violate the closing conditions and take them to prison to inform them of social distance, we provide them with food and tell them about proper disinfection, and they are released at night,” Chandrajit Singh, the PR officer of the Chandigarh police, told CNN.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in India are low compared to other countries, especially considering the population, with only 1,251 confirmed and 31 deaths according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. However, the test rate is also low, and the number is likely to be much higher.