Migrant workers: Labour without liberty

Thousands of migrant workers in cities across the country, hailing from different home states, have had to face a grim situation in the COVID-19 lockdown | Image - Eunice Dhivya | All photos by Prabhu Mallikarjunan

On a scorching summer afternoon in May, Durgamma lays cement blocks on a street in Bengaluru. The COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have been eased and her employer, a contractor for the city corporation’s road works, rushed to resume the beautification project — white topping of roads —  that had been stalled due to the 40-day lockdown.

Hailing from a parched village in Raichur, about 400km north of Bengaluru, Durgamma and her two sons had moved to the city in 2017 hoping to make enough money to repay their debts incurred on their farm and return within two years. But with the meagre income — Durgamma earns ₹300 a day while her sons get ₹450 — they still had a long way to go to end their miseries.

And then the pandemic struck and the lockdown dealt a heavy blow. With no money left to fend for themselves, she borrowed ₹15,000 from the contractor as advance.

Going against the government’s guidelines, the contractor not only denied them salaries for the lockdown period, but also made them work to compensate for the loan.

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