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‘No one wants to go near them’ — returning migrant workers in Bihar face social boycott

Bihar is dealing with the issue of social stigmatisation amid Covid-19 scare as not just migrant workers, but even doctors treating patients are being shunned.

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Patna: Bihar is on the edge as migrant daily wagers and labourers returning from Delhi and other cities to their villages are being subjected to “social boycott”. 

Even those informing the authorities about coronavirus suspects are being targeted.

On Monday, a 25-year-old man, Bablu Kumar, was lynched to death in Sitamarhi for informing the local coronavirus help centre about some people who had returned to his village from Maharashtra, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country.

After Bablu shared the information with the authorities, these people, who came from Maharashtra, were tested on 24 March and their samples came back negative. 

The families, however, were furious with Bablu. On Monday, when Bablu was on his way to his uncle’s house, they attacked him.

“A complaint by the family members of Bablu has been lodged and we are investigating the case. We have detained two brothers in connection with the case,” Runni Saidpur police station in-charge Devendra Prasad Singh told ThePrint.

Also read: Coronavirus pandemic is ominous news for India’s rabi crops and farm-to-food chain

‘People coming from outside facing HIV-like stigma’ 

The Bihar government has pasted posters on the wall of every house with members who have been quarantined and this has led to fears of stigmatisation among people.

Physician and secretary of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development Dr Shakeel, in a letter to the principal secretary of the health department and the National Human Rights Commission, stated that the state government should stop stigmatising Covid-19 patients by pasting posters on the house of those who have been home quarantined. 

He said it does not just violate the Constitutional right to privacy, but is also leading to stigmatisation.

“…. vigilantism by neighbours and social ostracisation will lead to people not reporting Covid-19 cases. Precautionary quarantine needs to be supported and not vilified,” he said in the letter sent Monday.

While talking to ThePrint, he said: “People coming from outside the state are facing the same social stigma that HIV patients have faced.”

‘50,000 labourers entered Bihar in last 24 hours’

The frustration and anger among migrant labourers of being subjected to social boycott can be gauged by the fact that on Monday a government team in Jehanabad district was pelted with stones when it went to take some labourers, who have returned from Delhi, to the hospital for Covid-19 test.

The social boycott of these daily wagers is not just restricted to one district — it is across the state.

“Migrant labourers coming back here are facing social boycott. Nobody wants to go near them and there is no scope for any testing here. A villager coming from Delhi during Holi died after suffering from cough and cold, and was buried. It created a stir in the village and I had to inform the district authorities to check if he had died of coronavirus,” said Rakesh Jha, a Zilla Parishad member of Bhargawa village in Araria district.

Araria district falls in Seemanchal region, which has a large population of migrant labourers.

Despite the nationwide lockdown, the number of Bihari migrants returning to their native villages has been huge. 

According to Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar’s statement issued Tuesday, 50,000 migrant labourers have entered Bihar in the last 24 hours.

“The challenge of the government is not only to provide them relief and food and shelter. We have to ensure that the returning migrant labourers have to be quarantined for at least 14 days,” he said. 

He said the returning labourers are being screened at the border.

Also read: Bihar government to bear expenses of stranded migrant workers: Nitish Kumar

Even doctors not spared from social stigma

Not just migrant labourers, even doctors are complaining of social stigmatisation for treating Covid-19 patients.

“The day NMCH (Nalanda Medical College Hospital) was announced as a hub for coronavirus treatment, I was asked to keep my car out of the apartment where I live. My usually friendly neighbours who used to interact with me and address me as doctor ‘saheb’ now shut the door when I pass,” said a doctor treating patients at the NMCH, adding that many doctors there are facing social boycott. 

‘Modi, Nitish Kumar’s statements responsible for this’

Reacting to the allegations of stigmatisation, RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari said the hostility towards Bihari migrant labourers is due to the statements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. 

“The language used by PM Modi while declaring the 21-day lockdown is responsible for creating fear among people. Even CM Nitish Kumar heightened the fear by openly opposing (Uttar Pradesh) CM Adityanath’s order to transport migrant Biharis to the border of Bihar and declared that their arrival may lead to an increase of coronavirus cases in Bihar,” Tiwari added.

“He (Nitish Kumar) later made a U-turn by declaring that migrants would be transported to their native villages. But the damage has been done and local villagers are often boycotting the returning Biharis out of fear,” he said.

According to Tiwari, this spells trouble as the issue could lead to caste and even communal strife.

He said both the centre and the state could have handled the situation more sensitively.

The BJP, however, said the government is taking care of the migrant labourers.

“The government has asked mukhyas (village heads) to use government buildings to quarantine returning Biharis for 14 days. It is a step to ensure that they are taken care of,” said party spokesperson Rajni Ranjan Patel.

Also read: Hospitals in Bihar, UP give staff HIV kits to plug mask shortage, experts say it won’t work


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