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Migrant workers in India crushed to death as they try to return home

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

A group of 15 Indian migrant workers, who were making an arduous trek from an industrial zone back to their native villages in Madhya Pradesh, was crushed to death by a goods train early Friday morning, after they fell asleep on the tracks.

The fatal accident highlights the continuing plight of millions of desperate Indian labourers, who have been left stranded without work or wages in India’s big cities and industrial areas for the duration of the country’s on-going lockdown.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described himself as “extremely anguished” over the loss of life due to the accident.

With nearly all regular public transportation services suspended in India since March 22, thousands of migrants have undertaken long and difficult journeys on foot, or by other illicit and sometimes dangerous means, in a desperate bid to reach the comfort of their distant home villages.

Many have died along the way as a result of exhaustion, heat stroke, hunger dehydration and sometimes fatal accidents.

Recently, 14 migrant workers even were found hidden inside a cement mixer as they sought to get home.

There has been a mounting outcry over the plight of migrant workers amid growing concerns about the potential for social unrest, prompting Indian Railways last weekend to begin running special point-to-point train services to take migrant workers back to their home states.

But tickets for the trains, organised between the governments of the sending and receiving states, remain hard to get hold of, given the limited services and huge pent up demand.

As a result, many migrants are continuing to set out on foot.
Earlier this week, the southern state of Karanataka — home of the IT hub Bangalore — decided not permit the special trains to operate in the state, after complaints from the construction industry that the mass exodus of migrant workers would lead to a massive labour shortage once companies were ready to resume operations.

The decision led to a massive public outcry, especially from powerful labour unions, which accused authorities of treating workers like bonded labourers. The Karnataka state government has since reversed its decision, and has now agreed to permit the special trains to operate, allowing many frustrated migrant workers to leave.

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