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A humanitarian crisis: Migrant workers and India's COVID-19 lockdown

A Panel Discussion on the Impact of COVID-19 and its lockdown on rural communities in India and how it has deepened the migration crisis.

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About the Event...

“The rich will get all the help, getting rescued and brought home in planes from abroad. But we poor migrant labourers have been left to fend for ourselves. That is the worth of our lives,” said Rampukar.

“Hum mazdooron ka koi desh nahin hota

(We labourers don’t belong to any country.)”[1]


The sharpening and deepening of social and economic inequalities, injustices and prejudices, catalysed by COVID19, has been felt dramatically, disproportionately and often tragically by migrant labourers in India. The injustices are continuing.

Widespread concerns at the Government’s response were raised on 26 May by the Supreme Court of India, which declared that the problems of the migrants had still not been solved and that there had been "inadequacies and certain lapses" on the part of the government. It ordered the Centre and States to provide free food, shelter and transport to stranded migrant workers.

It is a web of citizens’ organisations and movements who are responding, more than the government itself. These responders include Action Village India’s partners.

In this panel discussion we hear from civil society organisations and movements in India, about the impact of COVID-19 and the imposed lockdown on migrant workers and rural communities. Not only will we hear about the responses and challenges but also go deeper into a discussion of the migration crisis and its root causes.


Dilip Banerjee

Ashoka Fellow, Social Worker

Dilip began his career as an active Trade Unionist and was deeply involved in the political movement in the collieries of Bihar in the 1970s and '80s. As such he was instrumental in returning land to its rightful tribal owners who were powerless against the might of the mine owners. From his early days, Dilip felt strongly that people should have ownership of their land and of their futures.


In the mid-1980s, Dilip left his career as a trade union leader and moved to Kolkata, joining the Child in Need Institute (CINI) in 1985–first as a public awareness officer and later as a health programs officer. From the beginning, Dilip was convinced that the community would rather feel like part of the development process than like a recipient of outside help. At CINI Dilip was allowed the flexibility to try several ideas; he set up village development forums, and he introduced the concept of ‘phasing in and out’, – the process of transferring development programs to the local people once the ventures have taken root. Yet through this work, Dilip realized that even the most well-meaning citizen organizations were often unwilling to hand over their programmes to participants thus creating a problem that, in his view, hampered the advancement of sustainable development.


In 1995 Dilip left CINI to work for Oxfam in the cyclone-torn Sunderbans, a region of vast mangrove forests and islands in the southernmost region of West Bengal. Rather than merely doling out relief supplies prescribed by emergency relief guidelines, Dilip began to see the regularity of cyclones as an opportunity to involve the communities, not only in disaster relief efforts but also in continuing the development and management of the region.

Satish Girija

Secretary and Founder, Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra (NBJK)

Satish Kumar known as Satish Girija is an engineering graduate and founder member of Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra- a renowned voluntary organization in Jharkhand and Bihar. He follows Gandhian ideology being vegetarian with simple living.


At the age of 72, he has 49 years of rich experience in the implementation of rural development programmes through NBJK. He also did a certificate course ‘Planning and Management of Rural Development’ in the UK. He is a writer of books ‘Aap Chahen to Bimar na Paden’, ‘Vikas Ke Sahyogi Srot’, Funding Agencies & Support Organization etc.


Over the years, he has been a member of various boards/committees of Planning Commission, National Commission for Women, CAPART under the aegis of MORD, Clinical Establishment Jharkhand State Council, PC & PNDT State Supervisory Committee, RINPAS Management Committee etc.

Ramesh Sharma

National Coordinator, Ekta Parishad

Ramesh Sharma is National Coordinator of Ekta Parishad, a mass movement for land rights of marginalized populations in India. He has collaborated with and assisted other non-violent movements in Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Brazil, Bangkok, and Uganda.


Ramesh has also delivered lectures at Cambridge University, the London School of Economics, and Oxford University as well as the British Parliamentary Committee. He is an alumnus of the ICNC Summer Institute.

Anindita Majumdar

Founder & Managing Trustee, EquiDiversity Foundation

Anindita grew up with a sister, and no male siblings. She never experienced any direct discrimination from her parents – but whenever she and her sister did something that made them proud – their mother would tell them that she was pleased because they’d done something as wonderfully as boys would. She watched her sister conforming to pre-set gender roles, that sparked the rebel in her. The aspiring and eager child that she was, encouraged her to be more like a boy, associating her growing physical and emotional strength to that of a boy’s. However, much to her disappointment, in the longer run no matter how hard she tried, she realised that she simply wasn’t being a good enough boy. She decided that she would explore her strength not from an external direction – that of society’s and her family’s, but from her own self. She directed her understanding internally, and she got increasingly comfortable and stronger in her own skin – that of a woman.


She initially worked as a case worker and offered legal aid for inmates in correction homes and then in Ashoka Fellow Anuradha Kapoor’s organisation, Swayam. Having worked there for 12 years, she realised the futility in legal aid – offering help that would silence the symptoms but failed to keep the problem from repeating, or actually being solved. Also, at her time in Swayam, she found that there were groups within the community, that were powerful within themselves – but didn’t know where to proceed beyond that. Anindita was of the understanding that all the work around the gender space, wouldn’t actually amount to anything for the long term unless the core issue itself were to be addressed. She understood this core issue to be how decision making for society took place – governance. Hence she found herself engrossed in the newly emerging conversation around the country at that time, of gender-based reservation quotas – and down the line, working towards creating a gender equitable society through gender-equitable governance.

Anand Abhinav

Programme Director, Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra (NBJK)

“I am engineer and Postgraduate in Rural Management with 8 years of experience in rural development. I have expertise on eye health, and disability issues. I was in the drafting committee of state disability rule under “Rights of persons with disabilities Act, 2016”, for Govt. of Jharkhand. I am currently working as Programme Director at NBJK.”

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