London in August 2020 saw scenes that would not be out of place in a science fiction fantasy. Protestors gathered outside of the country’s Department for Education and rallied to ‘dismantle the algorithm’. The algorithm in question was a statistical model designed to standardise grades for the country’s GCSE A-level examinations (the equivalent of 12th board exams in India).
Child Rights Trust (a Bangalore based NGO working extensively in the area of Child Rights) and Ms. Neena Nayak (a child Rights advocate and activist) filed a Writ Petition seeking enforcement of Fundamental Rights, under Articles 14, 15, 19, 21, 21A, 39 and 47 of the Constitution, of migrant children and children of migrant families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Petition seeks to ensure that migrant children and children of migrant workers are provided with proper living conditions, nutrition, health care/immunization, access to education and their protection. The Petition highlights that the lack of present-day assessment of the number and essential needs of migrant children, infants and pregnant and lactating women of migrant families has aggravated their vulnerabilities during the lockdown.
Amid this pandemic crisis and subsequent lockdown, we witnessed images of millions of migrants returning their homes walking hundreds of kilometres. As per data collected by Union Skill Development Ministry, around 67 lakh migrant workers returned to their homes. The predicament of these migrant workers during the crisis could have been significantly averted if they had a financial safety net to rely on – most had lost their jobs after the lock down had come into effect.
On 27th May 2020, a tragic image of a child playing beside his dead mother made headlines. Unfortunately, this is only one of the many instances, which has brought to light India’s stark class inequalities during the migrant crisis.
The migrant crisis has certainly brought some attention to class inequality in India. However, we must resist the urge to view the crisis only through class. About 16% of the total intra-state migrants in India belong to the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 8% to the Scheduled Tribes (STs), almost equal to their share in the total population, as per data from Census 2011. It is then plausible that a significant fraction of migrants attempting to return to their homes during the lockdown are SC/STs. These communities are vulnerable on the account of their class and caste.
In the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989, the executive has in many cases not adhered to the text and spirit of the legislation. However, it appears that Courts are going in this direction as well – all in the name of COVID-19.