In a recent New York Times article, Jyoti the 15-year-old girl who cycled from a village in Bihar to Gurgaon to take her father home, was celebrated and called ‘lionhearted’. Ivanka Trump in a tweet called the act a ‘a feat endurance and love’, the Indian Cycling Federation offered her tryouts. All news portals are celebrating the extraordinary tasks this young girl and many other migrant laborers are undertaking defying human capabilities and fears without considering should this be celebrated to begin with? When an individual from a comfortable background chooses to cycle to and from her place of work for the sake of the environment, that is something that can and should be celebrated. Simply because of the element of choice. For Jyoti and many others, this is not a choice but a recourse, a chance of survival.
When citizens laud these instances by eliminating the cause of the same, it gradually creates an ignorant society. You see it as a story, praise it on social media and forget about it. However, what should be done is, asking questions. Understanding why a child had to resort to this situation, why do citizens have to walk to their homes, why are parents sacrificing their meals for their children and most importantly why the system is failing its citizens. Mark Tully, in a Hindustan Times article discusses why the voices of the informal workforce is muted. He writes it is because the people in position are unable to identify themselves with those suffering. We hear about one from a hundred instances, a week and we glorify them as a poetic depiction of survival without feeling the pain and guilt of going through the same. Lack of identification is leading to a lack of empathy and this is not novel, the reality has just been brought to focus in the light of a crisis.
The pandemic brought to light the pre-existing notions around how difficult it is for informal daily wage laborers to survive to begin with. Debates around the lockdown, echoed the fact how if not the disease the hunger can kill lakhs of our population. If policies are made to support them then systemic failures and infrastructural roadblocks in access can. Simply put we have now accepted that things have been and always will be hard for a section of this society hence their stories of grit and determination are something to be politicians on televisions, without even once addressing how the situation can be changed. Not just at the time of a pandemic but also under extremely normal circumstances. Uncertainty of income is not a new experience for the informal economy, but this degree of uncertainty of survival certainly is. While collecting data for Sewa’s study on COVID-19’s impact on the women of the informal economy, a woman refused to answer the questions, simply claiming she had no interest in sharing her story, as that will not feed her family.
Thus, if each individual reading the story of Jyoti, chooses to not just glorify her attempt at survival but understand the systemic failures that forced her to do it, and take the right steps toward helping her, we could all move towards a more empathetic and equal society.
‘Lionhearted’ Girl Bikes Dad Across India, Inspiring a Nation. (2020, May 23). The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com
Rahul Gandhi to share migrant labourers’ “incredible story of grit, determination and survival” on his YouTube channel | India News – Times of India. (2020, May 23). The Times of India. Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com
India’s migrant workers deserve better than this, writes Mark Tully – columns. (2020, May 9). Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com