Patna, May 27, 2020: A baby plays with a shroud covering its dead mother at a station in Bihar, in one of the most tragic visuals to emerge from the daily reports of migrants stranded by the coronavirus lockdown.
In the clip widely shared on social media, the toddler tugs at the cloth partly covering his mother’s body. The cloth comes off but his mother doesn’t move; she died of extreme heat, hunger and dehydration moments before.
The clip is from a station in Muzaffarpur in Bihar, where the woman had arrived in a special train for migrants on Monday as to NDTV.
At the same station, a two-year-old child also died, reportedly from heat on top of inadequate food. The child’s family had boarded a different train from Delhi on Sunday.
The woman, according to her family, had been unwell on the train because of the lack of food and water. She had taken a train from Gujarat on Sunday. On Monday, shortly before the train rolled into Muzaffarnagar, the woman collapsed.
After her body was laid out on the station platform, her little son kept playing and trying to wake her until an older child dragged him away.
Lakhs of migrant workers and their families were left to fend for themselves after India went into shutdown in late March. Without jobs or money, the migrants set out for their homes thousands of kilometres away, walking or on cycles, autos or trucks. Many died before they could reach home, either in road accidents or from hunger and exhaustion.
Earlier this month, the government started special trains to take migrants home, but the process has been vexed by paperwork and glitches, which led to many still making their own desperate arrangements to go home.
In the soaring heat, migrant families have been forced to wait in queues, either for tickets or at centres where they are screened and declared virus-free to travel on trains.
Temperatures have touched 50 degrees in parts of India, adding to the suffering of labourers and families on the move.
A recent home ministry order that stressed that no permission is needed from destination states to run the trains seems to have added to the chaos.
Officials suspected that lack of coordination between the centre and states has worsened the arrangements on the trains and at stations.