The defining images of India’s three-week lockdown may be of migrant workers, with bags perched on their heads and children in their arms, walking down highways in a desperate attempt to return to their villages hundreds of miles away.
India, a country of more than 1.3 billion people, is not among the worst affected by the pandemic. Not yet, anyway. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has crossed 7,000, with more than 200 deaths. But the virus is exposing once again India’s deep economic divide, and the government’s apathy toward the workers who power the country’s growth.
In the middle-class South Delhi neighborhood where I live, we’re preoccupied with inconvenience. No one likes to be cooped up at home for days on end. No eating out, no visiting one another; masks must be worn when you go to the grocer or the bakery. With few cars on the road, some of my neighbors have noted one silver lining: The sky is clear and blue, something we rarely see in one of the most polluted cities in the world. A few miles away, in parts of the Indian capital where many migrant workers live, the lockdown is more than an inconvenience.