Sir — Fans of J.K. Rowling have reason to cheer. The author is publishing children’s fiction for the first time since Harry Potter. Rowling has started putting chapters of The Ickabog on her website, free for anyone with access to the internet to read. This is great since the steep cost of the Harry Potter books when they were first released had meant that many children could not afford them and had to wait for libraries to acquire the books. Good literature can be a great source of comfort in unsettling times and children stuck at home for long periods are sure to enjoy Rowling’s offering.
Justice at last
Sir — The decision of the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognizance of media reports and representations from senior lawyers to step in and protect the fundamental rights of migrant workers comes as a ray of hope in bleak times. The three-judge bench has ordered the Centre and the states to immediately provide transport, food and shelter free of cost to stranded migrant workers. Earlier pronouncements by the court — such as if migrants are being given two square meals a day by the government, they cannot need much more, or that the death of migrant labourers sleeping on railway tracks cannot be stopped — had been surprising for many. This is because the apex judicial body is seen as the last protector of democracy in India. The admission of the court that there has been “inadequacies and certain lapses” in handling the humanitarian crisis in India is also welcome. One hopes that the states and the Centres act at the earliest on the court’s orders.
Sir — It is heartening that the Supreme Court has stepped in to alleviate the troubles that have befallen migrant labourers, who have suffered more than any other segment of society during the lockdown imposed to check the spread of Covid-19. Given the class, caste and religious prejudices in India, it will be a long time before migrant labourers — they hail mostly from impoverished backgrounds and marginalized communities — are allowed to re-enter homes and workplaces.
The lack of jobs combined with the high cost of living means that staying on in cities is unviable. But the catch is that the homes that migrants are returning to are unlikely to have work prospects either. Agriculture has taken a beating — if the eastern parts of the country are grappling with the aftermath of a devastating cyclone, parts in the west are dealing with locusts. As such, perhaps the judiciary could go one step further and ask the government to take ameliorative measures. For instance, the stipulation that resuming work in any sphere hinges on people registering on the Aarogya Setu app is exclusionary and does not take into account ground realities. Even if one were to assume, for the sake of argument, that all migrant labourers possess smartphones — the reality is far from it — would it be fair to expect them, with all their existing troubles, to be able to log in symptoms if and when they appear? More important, will people who are desperate for jobs to feed their families even one square meal a day be willing to disclose such symptoms?
The way forward has to include precautionary measures. Workers must be provided safety equipment. Unlike citizens involved in the practice of manual scavenging, whose deaths on account of the lack of safety gear mean little to the ‘genteel’ Indian since the latter is far removed from such ugly realities, those who work in our homes and various other places will have a direct impact on our health. In the absence of humanity, might selfish interests, at least, prompt us to protect migrant workers? Unregulated workplaces can have disastrous consequences. Some form of regulation — including the benefits that those employed in the organized sector get — must be made mandatory.
The world has changed beyond recognition. Unless India steps up and evolves, its citizens have little hope of coming out of the crisis alive.
Sir — Justice delayed is justice denied. This maxim is what comes to mind when one thinks of the recent Supreme Court verdict on the migrants. Nearly three months of untold hardships and countless deaths later, no step taken to help the migrants can be enough. Even so, the government should rectify its past mistakes and help those in need at once.
Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh
Sir — It is true that desperate times call for desperate measures, but drinking sanitizer owing to the restrictions on and the increased price of alcohol is surely an extreme. In Kerala, tipplers are reportedly turning to hand sanitizers — made available cheaply by the government owing to the pandemic — instead of the bottle. This, senior doctors have warned, can be dangerous since sanitizer usually contains substances like hydrogen peroxide and glycerine. The state has had to regulate the sale of sanitizers as well. Is dependence on alcohol emerging as a threat greater than the coronavirus in India?