- Videos of UP cops assaulting migrants walking home shared online
- Badaun police chief apologised over video, assured action
- Migrant workers across country forced to walk home amid 21-day lockdown
Two days into the "total lockdown" ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus, videos of police punishing those who violate curfews and ignore restrictions on movements have begun to emerge from across the country.
One such video - from western Uttar Pradesh's Budaun town - shows a group of young men forced to hop down a main road with bags strapped to their backs.
Reports from the town suggest they are migrant workers trying to return home amid the lockdown. They were caught by the cops, who refused to listen to their pleas, and humiliated by being made to hop and crawl in this heat.
"The policeman seen in the video is a probationer with about a year of experience. Senior officers were present but manning other spots. Corrective action will be taken. I apologise for the video and am ashamed about what happened," AK Tripathi, the Budaun police chief, said.
Across the country heart-breaking pictures and videos have emerged of migrant labour, mostly daily wagers, being forced to return home by walking hundreds of kilometres in the absence of public transport that has been shut as a result of the "total lockdown".
This morning Bunty, a daily wage labourer who is among a stream of migrants who have begun the long and punishing trek from Delhi to their village in Uttar Pradesh, told NDTV: "No one helps you in Delhi, the way they do in the village".
Bunty's village is 150 kilometres from Delhi and he is forced to travel that distance with his wife and three young children. They have little money and not enough food for the trip.
Some others are even less fortunate - they have no means of getting to villages much further away.
On Tuesday a young boy from Bihar broke down and cried while speaking to NDTV. He was among scores of disappointed migrant workers stranded in Delhi, with no money or shelter, after interstate bus services were shut down by the government.
He, like thousands of other labourers, work for daily wages in construction sites around the national capital. With the lockdown in effect, all building work has been stopped and they are out of jobs.
The lockdown ordered by the Prime Minister has been acknowledged by experts, and opposition leaders, as a necessary move to control the spread of the infectious COVID-19 virus.
However, the fallout is affecting the economically weaker sections of the society the most - men, women and children who rely on daily wages and casual labour to survive even in the best of times.
PM Modi, while announcing measures to deal with the outbreak, had urged people to "stay in whichever city you are", in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, for people like Bunty and the men in the video from UP's Budaun, staying in their current locations is difficult without an income to take care of the basic necessities.
The government has helped some people; last week the Railways, which has now shut all services, sent four special trains carrying thousands of migrants from the Mumbai-Pune region to Bihar.
This afternoon, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a compensation package worth Rs 1.75 lakh crore, dubbed "Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan scheme" that will "address the concerns of poor, migrant workers and those who need help".
This follows plans and proposals by several state governments, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, to provide free food and aid to stranded migrant workers. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik issued a call to his fellow chief ministers to help in this regard.
In a letter circulated to his opposite numbers, Mr Patnaik has asked for their help in arranging basic food, accommodation and security for helpless Odisha residents in other states, while assuring similar aid to all those stuck in his state.
The coronavirus outbreak in the country has infected over 600 people since originating in China's Wuhan district in December last year, and has been linked to the deaths of at least 13 people. Worldwide over four lakh have been infected and more than 18,000 have been killed.