Updated: July 21, 2021 5:27:43 pm
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Since the pandemic began, Bollywood actor Sonu Sood has emerged as a key figure for the affected people through his many charitable interventions.
“I was doing movies as an actor, and you are part of a Rs 100-crore film or a Rs 200-crore film but…there is nothing more special than touching the soul or connecting with an individual that you are never going to meet again in your life,” Sood said at the fourth edition of the eight-part webinar series ‘Thinc Migration’ by The Indian Express.
Sood was in a fireside chat with Anant Goenka, executive director, Indian Express Group, in the webinar that highlighted the manner in which the plight of migrant workers has been invisibilised during the pandemic and to figure out how the civil society and the industry can help the government build medium- and long-term solutions to address their concerns.
Presented by Omidyar Network India, the webinar also saw a panel discussion moderated by Udit Misra, deputy associate editor, The Indian Express. The panel comprised Archana Goradia Gupta, former president of FICCI FLO and former national chair of FICCI MSME Committee; journalist and filmmaker Vinod Kapri; Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research; and Atul Satija, founder 2.0 and CEO of GiveIndia.
Kapri, whose documentary film ‘1232 kms’ follows seven migrant workers who cycled 1,232 km to reach home during the pandemic, said migrants are made invisible right from the manner in which people save names of service providers in smartphones. “These people are all -wallahs [a suffix] to us. They don’t have names. We never considered them as human,” he said.
To Misra’s question on why we lack concern for this huge chunk of the population, Gupta said that at about 30-35 per cent, India has the highest percentage of migrant labour. Lopsided growth, concentration of jobs at a few places, and jobs that don’t pay enough for people to become a settler all contribute to the magnitude of the migrant crisis in India. “We have to think of building structures that can help people live with families,” she said.
Among her solutions, Gupta focused on India’s strong craft tradition and on creating networks that could get them from the rural sector onto e-commerce platforms. This would be particularly beneficial in creating livelihoods for women artisans.
Kumari redrew the government’s responsibilities in this context by pointing out that in addition to efforts made by civil society, we need structural policy intervention. “Nobody wants to leave their home and village and come to urban areas, struggle and survive. Local industry can do a lot…. Instead of the Central Vista, [we need] a lot of infrastructure in the rural sector.”
“We need to give every hand work so that every mouth can be fed. I think priorities have been lost at the moment. We can be Santa Claus but we have to be advocates for [migrants],” she said, adding that NITI Aayog has to work out a whole plan for migrant workers.
So how long can civil society be Santa Claus? And is it possible to trigger a behavioural change in them to care and give more? Satija said that while people have always been benevolent, decisive change “cannot happen unless it’s a formal inclusion,”. He highlighted the exclusion of migrants from the voting process, often because of their location, where they are neither registered in their place of work nor are they in their home villages.
When it came to extending help, Sood said he had no hesitation in reaching out to the civil society for support. “When people ask me how I do it, I tell them that I never think twice about calling someone I know, or someone I don’t know, in order to save a life,” he said.