Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, the government of India has been grappling with a migrant crisis, with labourers, understandable, wanting to go back to their home states. Lakhs of migrant labourers have been transported back to their home states in special Shramik Trains that have been started by the Government of India. As the poor labourers suffering under the necessary lockdown in the country are making their way home, there are stories of joy that have also emerged from the depths of suffering that have been thrust on the world due to the Chinese virus.
According to information accessed by OpIndia, 31 infants have been born in the Shramik trains which are being run by the Government of India to facilitate the return of migrant labourers back to their home states. One of the earliest births in the Shramik trains was on the 10th of May 2020. One Mrs Ketki Singh was on her way from Surat to Prayagraj when she went into labour and gave birth to her child. She was attended to at Satna by RPF.
On the 18th of May, 21-year-old mother gave birth to her child under the care of a medical team and railway state authority of Katihar. On her way to Bihar, after giving birth to a healthy child, the mother chose to continue her onward journey to Bihar. Similarly, on the same day, one Neetu Devi on her way to Uttar Pradesh gave birth to her child, and when the medical team assessed the mother and daughter, finding both of them healthy, the mother insisted that she continue her journey to her home town in Uttar Pradesh.
There were several such cases where after giving birth to the child, the mother, after being found healthy along with her child refused to terminate their journey to their home state to receive adequate medical attention post-birth. While the journey would certainly be difficult with a newborn, adequate help was provided to the new mothers who were making their journey home along with their newborns.
While several women gave birth to healthy babies while travelling on Shramik trains, some others suffered irreparable loss as well. On the 17th of May, for example, one lady travelling to Gorakhpur lost the twins she had given birth to. According to information, the babies were premature (born well before the due date). While one of the twins was a still-born, the other breathed its last soon after it was born. The mother was then shifted to Basti Civil Hospital for medical attention.
In another heartbreaking tale, a woman travelling from Jaipur to Gorakhpur, UP, gave birth to a still-born at Jaipur itself during transit. The mother then carried her still-born baby to Gorakhpur and was then sent to Gorakhpur hospital by the authorities. On the 25th, a lady gave birth to twins while travelling to Bihar and while she got medical attention, the children and the mother were shifted to Sagar District Hospital where the twins breathed their last.
The deaths on Shramik trains and the lies
While we talk about the birth of children on Shramik trains and new life being brought into this world amidst suffering, one subject that cannot be ignored is the controversy surrounding the deaths of migrant labourers on Shramik trains. There have been certain deaths that have been reported while in transit on Shramik trains and they have invariably been given a false connotation by vested interested. For example, Rana Ayyub shared a video of a woman breathing her last at Muzaffarnagar station and claimed that the woman had died due to hunger. However, OpIndia had confirmed that the woman who had breathed her last at the station was suffering from prolonged illness and had died in the train during the journey.
The Railway sources had further said that the Inspector-in-Charge of Railway Protection Force and Deputy SP Headquarters GRP Muzaffarpur, Mr Ramakant Upadhyay were informed about the death of the woman in the train and after securing permission from station in-charge, the body of the deceased was disembarked at the Muzaffarpur railway station and was subsequently examined by the Muzaffarpur Railway Division doctor.
Another false story that was floated spoke about the death of a 4-year-old child on Shramik train. A Dainik Bhaskar report spoke about the death of a 4-year-old Mohammad Irshad who passed away while boarding the train from Muzaffarpur to Betiya almost insinuating negligence on the part of the Railway. However, Railways clarified that the child was ill and was returning from Delhi after treatment. The cause of his death will be known only after the post-mortem is carried out.
Indian Railways has called out the misleading reports that are attributing deaths due to prior ailments to negligence by the railways. On May 27, 2020, Jagran had published news claiming that four people died on Shramik Express due to negligence. The report stated that the migrant workers onboard Shramik Express have been deprived of food and water and cast aspersions that some of the migrants who died on these trains died due to lack of basic food and water.
However, the Indian Railways took to Twitter to rubbish the misinformation being spread regards to deaths on-board. Indian Railways asserted that medical assistance is provided to every passenger in case of emergencies. Moreover, food and water are provided on the Shramik Express trains for all passengers.
The same lie, alleging that 10 migrant labourers have died due to hunger while in transit on Shramik Trains was also spread by Caravan India and was promptly rebutted with facts.
Deaths in transit as natural as birth: Here are the numbers
While many of these incidents, when taken in isolation, can give the completely wrong impression, deaths and births in transit are a rather normal occurrence in India considering the sheer volume of people who travel using the Indian Railways every day. It is estimated that over 1 crore people are daily long-distance travellers, and after accounting for the average time of long-distance train travel, and a national death rate of 7.234%, conservatively, over two dozen people would likely breath their last during transit in India every day. This estimation was of course based if normal circumstances were prevailing and the country was not under lockdown.
When OpIndia reached out to sources in the Railway Ministry, they confirmed our estimates to be roughly accurate. Adding that such deaths are unfortunate too, but there’s not much railways can do as it’s a matter of probability and life cycle.
As heartbreaking as those numbers are, giving it a spin to allege ‘negligence’ by the Railways reeks of an agenda to inspire chaos and pandemonium amidst an already difficult situation. While every death is tragic and every birth is a celebration of life, just the location of the death cannot and should not be used to impugn negligence simply because different sections have agendas that are served by creating panic.