India is unique in culture, geographic pattern, community settlements, economic or natural resources. There is wide regional disparity in development within the country. As a result, people living in rural parts belonging to lower income group, move from their state of origin to another state, within the boundaries of India, either for social or economic reasons. In common term they are referred to as ‘Migrant labourers’. Migrant labourers are a formidable force in India’s economic life, constituting nearly 50% of India’s GDP. The total number of internal migrants in India, as per the 2011 census, is 45.36 crore or 37% of the country’s population.
Nobody had imagined unprecedented impact of India’s nationwide lockdown on low wage earning migrant population across the country due to Covid-19 pandemic. Just to put things in perspective, this is being seen as the second largest forced long distance movement of people recorded in the history of India, since the partition in 1947. According to an assessment by the ‘Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’, more than 120 million people lost their jobs in April due to the lockdown, 75 percent of whom were working in the unorganised sector. So with the looming fear of hunger, they were forced to begin arduous journeys back to their villages —cycling or hitching rides on lorries or on foot.
DEF conducted an ‘Ethnographic Study’ on migrant labourers to assess the impact of Covid-19 crisis on them from diverse perspectives and a way forward. This involved—travelling to most affected states of India—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. In each state, 4-5 villages were visited, which witnessed substantial number of migrant labourers forced to return due to the crisis. In the process, over 60 migrant labourers were video interviewed collectively in three states—in their natural habitat, while observing and recording their experiences and gathering vital insights. Video documentation was undertaken on Iphone 11 during the 16 day road trip—from 12th June to 27th June—under tough circumstances in which over 2000 kms. Iphone 11 was a conscious technical choice to improve mobility during the shoot and to be respectably less intrusive in areas which were still under partial lockdown and amongst affected people who were in constant state of turmoil ridden with anxiety, desperation, frustration, pain and agony. We came across angry youth and despondent families who were struggling hopelessly and helplessly. This film is an outcome of heart-wrenching experiences shared by the migrants during video documentation, which deserve to be brought before an international audience. The film is designed to present the true picture of the unique situation on the ground with unprecedented consequences as starkly as possible. Iphone 11 not only helped in maintaining optimum production quality, the format also allowed migrant workers to express themselves openly.