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The recent pandemic outbreak has not only put everyone under house arrest but has also reiterated the idea that for the majority of the people home is the safest haven. Although, it might not be the case for the women and children who face abuse at home or for disabled or elderly who are mistreated in the family itself. However, apart from these exceptions, the behaviour of the majority of people who were working or studying from away from home is clearly reflective of the idea that “ghar” is the best place to armour themselves from the virus and other ancillary challenges in these troubled times. 

Millions of students travelled back to their native cities as soon as the university authorities issued advisories to vacate hostels. Same was the case for the working professionals who were working in distant cities, who decided to rush back to home as soon as their HRs and bosses announced that work from home was going to be the norm from thereon. Some had the privilege of boarding flights with “the anti-coronavirus kits” comprising of n-95 masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. The lesser privileged ones boarded trains and buses to reach the place which they felt was the safest, their homes. This retreat was partly a result of the notion that home would be tranquil, partly a result of the fact that these people had the means to go back and partly a result of the realisation that the outside world would not be very kind. 

This retreat was partly a result of the notion that home would be tranquil, partly a result of the fact that these people had the means to go back and partly a result of the realisation that the outside world would not be very kind. 

The centrality placed on home and native lands has not come to light in the current times only. The idea of home and the warmth attached to it has always been a celebrated part of popular depictions like movies, paintings, literature, folk stories and music. Be it movies like City lights and Swades, be it phrases like “home sweet home” or be it songs like “chitthi ayi hai”, “ghar aja pardesi” and “mitti di khushboo”. All these indicate that a home to go back to, after working tirelessly and doggedly is the best thing to have.

Also read: Let’s Talk About Domestic Abuse During COVID-19

However, the opportunity to go back home should be a matter of Right but is unfortunately only a matter of privilege. The migrant workers who were thrown out of their tenancies by their landlords, out of jobs by their employers and were predominantly shrugged off by the state could not retreat back to their safe havens to avoid the brutalities of the outside world. This happened because they did not have the privilege to board airplanes and go back home within those 4 hours between the announcement of the lockdown and its enforcement. 

However, the opportunity to go back home should be a matter of right but is unfortunately only a matter of privilege. The migrant workers who were thrown out of their tenancies by their landlords, out of jobs by their employers and were predominantly shrugged off by the state could not retreat back to their safe havens to avoid the brutalities of the outside world.

Yet, many had the privilege  to fly back to their home country but their delayed arrival at the time when the situation had already went out of hand still led to their ostricization and humiliation. This has been the case with the NRI community. As per the media reports millions of NRIs have flown back to the country in the past one month, the number is high as 90,000 in Punjab alone. These returned NRIs, apart from being put under stringent surveillance, are facing social ostricization. 

Wherein people are circulating humiliating and offensive videos and memes about them. These videos depict people hurling abuses on them after discovering that they have come back from the countries that are worst hit by the pandemic. These videos attempt to drive home the idea that NRIs are going to be the ticking time bomb of Punjab who would infect people. Effectively, instead of raising awareness, these videos are sowing a seed of resentment the NRI community which has the potential to germinate into a long-drawn rivalry. 

While at the same time, migrant labourers who lost jobs, food, dignity and roofs from above their heads due to the lockdown, have decided to go back. Now they are on their way back to their home, lost in their own country and left with no means to contact anyone for help amidst hunger and dehydration. Yet are also being blamed and criticised by their own people.

Today when the world is being ripped apart by a microscopic virus and distant lands are becoming more alien than ever before; the people who left their home for better jobs and lives, are desperately struggling to go back to where they came from. The courts have already decided that right to shelter is a fundamental Right under Article 19 (1) E read with article 21 of the constitution. Now, it is for us to decide along with the right to shelter, whether the people of all class and backgrounds have the right to go back to their safe havens and be sheltered in them. We need to re-think as to whether they deserve rebuke and hate for striving to go where every human in distress wishes to go. 

Also read: Amid Covid-19, India’s Deep Rooted Exclusivity Becomes Evident

Social distancing and caution is allowable, but hostility is going to be deadlier than Coronavirus because once the seed of hostility germinates, it only goes on to grow. I’d like to close with few lines from a song by Allen Jackson,

So pack your bags, smile and say goodbye
and chase those dreams, and when you lay down and die
you know that there’s someone praying for you every day
Even if you never find your way
YOU CAN ALWAYS COME BACK HOME.


Featured Image Source: Reuters

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