- Mumbai's Bandra Station became a huge site of protest
- When the crowd ignored several warnings to disperse, police used batons
- Some came in search of food while others only wanted to go home
Mumbai, the city with the highest cases of coronavirus, became the site of a huge protest on Tuesday as hordes of migrant workers gathered outside Mumbai's Bandra station on Tuesday protesting against the extension of the lockdown. Video footage from the area showed thousands of people jostling, giving a go by to government warnings about coronavirus and social distancing.
Most demanded that they be allowed to go home. When the crowd ignored several warnings to disperse, batons were used, the police said.
The visuals -- reminiscent of the huge migrant exodus outside the inter-state bus stations in Delhi after the lockdown was declared for the first time - raised questions about how such a huge crowd gathered despite multiple containment zones in the city. It also raised concern about further spread of the virus -- Mumbai has seen more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19, more than half of the 2,300-plus cases in Maharashtra.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah had called Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to express concern and offer support. The administration needs to stay vigilant as such events will weaken India's fight against coronavirus, he said.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray told the media that the people had gathered outside the station as they thought "the trains will start running and they will go home...Someone said something and hence they gathered". "Don't play with their emotions. They are poor people. I warn you don't play with their emotions," he said, addressing rumour-mongers.
Sources told NDTV that the crowd wanted to leave Mumbai, expecting train services to resume. A message to that effect was apparently making the rounds. The police say they are still verifying the claim that a fake message was circulated.
The crowd mostly comprised migrant labourers who live in the slums around Bandra station. With no jobs, police messages that food would be delivered to them or they could shift to a camp, do not convince them.
"We have been providing food to their doorstep. The Centre has done nothing to give migrant labourers any confidence and with an expansion of the lockdown, they came out on the streets as an act of desperation," said Zeeshan Siddique, a Congress MLA from the neighbouring constituency.
Baba Siddique, the former MLA from Bandra West told NDTV, "I have appealed to them to stay where they are and we will take care of them. They cannot leave now as all state borders are sealed."
The countrywide lockdown, which has been extended till May 3, has hit migrant workers hard. Most are daily wage labourers who lost their income. Despite government promises of free food, many have been unable to get two meals a day. The lack of any form of transport meant most of them have not been able to go home to their villages either.
The Congress's Sanjay Nirupam denied that food was a problem for the migrants and blamed the lockdown, which has worsened the living conditions of the workers. Most of these people live in crowded areas where 10 or more people share a room. The lockdown means they have had to stay in such cramped conditions for days.
In a series of tweets Aaditya Thackeray, the son of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, blamed the Central government's lack of initiative to send the migrants home.
"The current situation at Bandra Station, now dispersed or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the Union Govt not being able to take a call on arranging a way back home for migrant labour. They don't want food or shelter, they want to go back home," he tweeted.
A second tweet read:
A mutual road map set by Union Govt will largely help migrant labour to reach home from one state to another safely and efficiently. Time and again this issue has been raised with the centre.— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) April 14, 2020
The protest comes on a day the country witnessed a huge jump in the cases of coronavirus. More than 1,400 people tested positive for coronavirus, taking the all-India figure above 10,000. Around 1,100 people have recovered and 353 patients have died.