New Delhi: On the opening day of the monsoon session in Parliament, the government, in response to at least seven questions posed by Lok Sabha MPs on the lockdown affecting the life and livelihood of migrant labourers, stated that it had no data on migrant labourers who died during the national lockdown.
Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Santosh Gangwar, categorically stated to a query on whether thousands of migrant labourers have died during the lockdown – “No such data is available.”
The Union minister, however, could have sought assistance from others’ efforts at creating a public database on the reported deaths of those belonging to migrant families during the lockdown.
Maintained voluntarily by four persons, the database has recorded 906 deaths between March 14 and July 4, 2020, and classified them under 10 categories. The database has excluded 67 deaths due to the volunteers’ inability to categorise them for want of more details.
Available on thejeshgn.com, the database has been put together by Aman, an assistant professor of legal practice at the Jindal Global School of Law, Thejesh G.N., a public interest technologist and Kanika Sharma and R. Krushna, doctorate students at Emory University (Georgia) and Syracuse University (New York) respectively with help from Roadscholarz, described as a group of freelance scholars and student volunteers interested in action-oriented research, socio-economic rights and related issues.
As per the data in the public domain, the highest number of 216 deaths between March 14 and July 4 had taken place due to the combined reasons of starvation and loss of money. As many as 209 deaths had taken place during the national lockdown due to road or train accidents suffered by labourers who had taken to the streets to reach their home states after all means of communication were stopped by the Central government in an overnight move.
During the lockdown, 133 suicides were also reported. While the database shows that 77 persons died due to lack or denial of medical care, 49 of them lost their lives because of alcohol withdrawal.
The database which also gives names, dates of death, along with the districts and occupations of those who died, has shown that 47 people had died of exhaustion, either due to the walk home or because of standing in long queues. As many as 49 migrants died in quarantine centres while 18 succumbed to non-communal, lockdown-associated crimes.
During the lockdown, there were several media reports on police brutality on those who took to the streets for violating the lockdown rules. As per the public database, 12 persons lost their lives in police action.
The database also reflects sources from where the details on the deaths have been collated along with links to the individual stories published in newspapers and online portals, for the public to corroborate them.
As to why they had decided to collect the data so meticulously, the site says, “It is our belief that such deaths must not be lost sight of when assessing the impact of the lockdown. This is one of the many attempts to keep a record of the human costs of the lockdown.” It further adds, “There is an active denial of the crisis caused by the unplanned lockdown, and therefore, it becomes more important to record these deaths for public memory.”
Since it has relied only on published news, it adds, “Only a fraction of deaths are reported by media and we may have missed some deaths reported in local media as well. Therefore, our numbers are an underestimate of the total deaths caused by the lockdown at the ground level.”