Migrant worker train deaths shock India amid lockdown fallout

Migrants wait to get themselves registered before getting transported to a railway station, in New Delhi, India May 18, 2020. — Reuters pic
Migrants wait to get themselves registered before getting transported to a railway station, in New Delhi, India May 18, 2020. — Reuters pic

PATNA, May 28 — Nine Indian migrant workers travelling amid the coronavirus pandemic died on trains in recent days, including a mother whose toddler could be seen trying to wake her in a viral video, officials and media reported yesterday.

The shocking deaths highlight the plight of Indian migrants in the pandemic, during which millions lost their jobs and are struggling to return home under the country's lockdown.

The deaths occurred on special trains organised by the Indian government to help transport the stranded workers back home.

Local media aired footage of a two-year-old boy pulling at a cloth covering his dead mother, 35-year-old Arbina Khatoon, at Muzaffarpur railway station in the northeastern state of Bihar.

Local police said Khatoon died of illness, with Indian Railways sharing a letter from relatives attesting to her poor health.

But those who travelled with her claimed she died from a shortage of food and water during a long train journey from western Gujarat state some 1,800 kilometres away.

A four-year-old boy was also reported dead before reaching the same Muzaffarpur station. His father said that he “died due to poor facilities in special trains for migrant workers.”

Local police told AFP the child died on the train due to illness.

The bodies of two other migrants who took a 1,480-kilometre train journey from Mumbai to Varanasi in the nation's north were pulled from the carriages yesterday. Police said the men, aged 30 and 63, suffered from existing ailments.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) reported an additional five other migrant workers had died on train journeys between Monday and yesterday.

Indian Railways said on Twitter that “no such deaths due to hunger have been reported.”

“In most of these cases, it is found that those who died are old, sick people and patients with chronic diseases, who had actually gone to big cities for medical treatment,” an India Railways spokesperson told PTI.

Millions of India's poor including migrant workers have been badly hit by the strict lockdown, with many in cities losing their jobs, going hungry and struggling to return to their home villages.

Some have walked or cycled long distances home in harsh summer heat, with dozens dying from exhaustion or accidents.

Critics say the special trains have been delayed, leaving migrants waiting or in trains in scorching hot weather for days, and that there had been a shortage of food and water on the journeys, charges that Indian Railways and the government deny. — AFP

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