• Legis Scriptor

COVID- 19 Lockdown and Human Rights of Migrant Labourers: A Flagrant Violation of Human Rights.


COVID 19: As the unprecedented crisis has gripped the world, making the world come to a grinding halt and showing no signs of abating and attenuating, hence to curb the spread of disease, lockdown, social distancing, rapid testing, and contact tracing remains only defence against the pandemic in the absence of any vaccine against COVID 19. The world currently is on thin ice though professionals associated with medical sciences are working round the clock to ensure the availability of a vaccine by the end of 2020.

As an inevitable consequence of the lockdown, the economy has taken a colossal blow; all the economic activities have come to an utter standstill. Everyone is reeling during these challenging times, but it is migrant labourers who are bearing the brunt of the crises, being the most vulnerable section of the society. They are unable to sustain themselves due to abeyance of their income, who used to rely on their daily wages for their survival, though Central and State Government are working in tandem to ensure their dignity, but the implementation remains a question, therefore raising concerns regarding human rights.

Human Rights Concerning Migrant Workers:

Human Rights are inalienable and basic rights, conferred for being human. Everyone is entitled to human rights from their birth irrespective of race, religion, nationality, caste, and creed. These rights are indispensable as they are in consonant with the dignity and freedom of the individual. These are the rights that no one can be deprived of without a precarious affront to justice. There are certain deeds which should never be done, certain freedom which should never be evaded, something which is supremely sacred.[1] Human dignity is the quintessence of human rights.[2]

Migrant workers being the most vulnerable group, they constantly find their rights violated, in the view of the same it becomes even more imperative to safeguard their rights. To alleviate the sufferings of the migrant workers, General Assembly on 18th, December 1990 adopted a convention known as International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was brought into force on 1st, July 2003. Article 2 of the convention defines migrant workers as ‘a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national’. It is worth mentioning that the application of the convention extends to the family members of the migrant workers.

Violation of Human Rights of the Migrant Workers:

In reference to a peculiar situation in India, where lakhs of migrant worker are stranded away from their origin state, slogging for their survival, Various Rights which have been conferred to migrant workers by convention, are in peril, which are stated below–

Article 8- Migrant workers and members of their families shall be free to leave any State, including their State of origin and members of their families shall have the right at any time to enter and remain in their State of origin.

Article 9- The right to life of migrant workers and members of their families shall be protected by law.

Article 10-No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 14-No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be arbitrarily deprived of property.

Article 16-

o Migrant workers and members of their families shall have the right to liberty and security of person.

o Migrant workers and members of their families shall be entitled to effective protection by the State against violence, physical injury, threats and intimidation, whether by public officials or by private individuals, groups or institutions.

o Migrant workers and members of their families shall not be subjected individually or collectively to arbitrary arrest or detention.

Having no means to livelihood, often thrown out of their accommodation by landlords, Migrants are driven by desperation to walk home. Recent Maharashtra train accident is a testimony to the present situation in the country, where 90 percent of the workforce is struggling for their survival. It has been reported from few states that migrant workers are being charged exorbitant charges for their train ticket fairs, which has practical effect of impairing the human rights and dignity of the workers at present time, going against the mandate of Article 8 of the convention.

In addition to Article 9 of the Convention, under the constitution of India, Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law”. Deprive a person of his right to livelihood and you shall have deprived him of his life.[3] Article 21 clubs life with liberty, the dignity of the person with means of livelihood without which the glorious content of dignity of the person would be reduced to an animal existence.[4] It can be inferred from the above observations of the court that the right to life is of paramount importance without which the dignity of a person would be reduced to a mere animal existence. The present crises have reduced the dignity of the migrant workers and therefore grossly infringing right to life and Article 9 of the convention.

The above treatment of government with regard to the treatment of migrant workers falls nothing short of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Lack of aid from the government with regard to the migrant workers is demeaning to human existence and in violation of Article 10 of the convention. Further in spite of the directions given by the government not to evict tenants for non-payment of rent, many are acting in blatant disregard to the guidelines, therefore violating Article 14 of the convention. Further, all these collective actions and police atrocities that migrant workers are currently facing grossly infringe Article 16 of the convention and much cherished human and fundamental rights.

[1] Maurice Cranston quoted in L.J. Macfarlane, ‘The Theory and Practice of Human Rights (1985) P. 7. [2] ‘The New Universe of Human Rights’ P. 3. [3] Olga Tellis and Ors. Vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation and Ors. AIR 1985 SC 0039. [4] D.K. Yadav Vs. J.M.A Industries AIR 1993 SC 0529.