The COVID-19 induced lockdown in India has been the reason behind the miseries of each class of persons. Though some groups like middle-class families are privileged enough to think whether they can make it to the end of the lockdown or not, some groups witnessed end at the beginning itself. The Government did not care to think of helpless migrant workers before it announced lockdown. Among migrant workers who walked thousands of miles, the women have suffered a lot more than other groups.
The pictures of migrant workers at the Mumbai Bandra Station or Anand Vihar ISBT Station of Delhi didn’t show many women in the frame. Neither the pictures of migrant workers who walk back thousands of miles to their home States nor those who are quarantined by States also don’t show women. The number of women in these pictures does not conform to the sex ratio of India. It is not that women don’t migrate to metropolitan cities in search of work. 80% of domestic workers are women. Then what else could be the reason behind women not going back to their home States? It may be that the public domain is dominated by men. Women may be discouraged by their families to come back either because of the heavy crowd at stations that may not seem ‘safe’ or because of the police lathis.
Even for the women migrants who travel or who are quarantined at the camp centres set up by the States, the hardships faced by them are not limited to what every person goes through.
The women migrant workers have been the most vulnerable target of domestic violence by their abusive partners. Most of them are domestic workers and due to the lockdown, did not receive their monthly wages. Their husbands too, do not work in decent jobs. Some of the families work in units at construction sites to earn their livelihood. The lockdown snatched their livelihood from them. This raises the frustration and anger among the poor migrants and no doubt, women have always faced the ill-consequences of the raging anger, frustration and anxiety in men. It is not just a phenomenon among the migrant workers but also among middle-class and rich families. Those few women who travel with their husbands or other male members of the family receive beatings occasionally whenever the men of the family don’t feel good along with the closure of the shelters for gender-based violence survivors and no NGOs available to rescue them.
Apart from domestic violence, there are other categories of gender-based violence that the women migrants may be facing during their journey back to their home States. The pictures of the crowd at Anand Vihar Station, Delhi or Bandra Station, Mumbai could explain the same. In our daily affairs, crowded places have proved to be potential opportunities for men to grope them in a not-so decent manner and harass them. Also, evidence from past crises and natural disasters point out that confinement measures lead to increased or first-time violence against women and children. The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014-15 showed that women and girls experienced higher rates of abuse and sexual violence during the outbreak than in preceding years. The cancellation of social events and closure of most of the public spaces along with strict enforcement of quarantine measures accelerate frustration which triggers a surge in cases of rape and violence not limited to the household. In the past 30 days, numerous rape incidents came into light from various corners of the nation. With the lockdown in effect, no one listens to the victim when the victim screams for help. The lockdown has been an opportunity for rapists to escape from the charges as, except the victim, no one can testify against them. What India needs right now along with the financial package is the deployment of police or CISF officials even at places which are closed for a month now to patrol in such areas regularly. Also, women personnel must be deployed so that the situation of the victim can be best understood. It is another set back to the economy that women who contribute to the workforce, are not safe in the lockdown. Other concerns like loss of livelihood, reduced remittances, etc. are faced by everyone and hence, the Union and State Governments launch relief schemes to mitigate hardships. But the governments have turned a blind eye to women who go through incidents of sexual harassment and rape and no steps have been taken by the governments to mitigate the plight of the helpless victims.
The miseries of migrant women don’t end up here. There is a long list. One of the prominent issues is the closure of shelters for gender-based violence survivors or turning them into potential quarantine centres by the government. This has reduced the chances and scope for women to escape from the hold of their abusive partners and the women subjected to sexual violence by persons other than their partners also do not get enough support. Victims of gender-based violence have nowhere to go to during the pandemic and can just weep over it. Governments do not consider the safety of women during the times of pandemic, as a priority. The potential reason behind the government turning a blind eye to the issue could be the lack of women in the legislative bodies. There are not enough women leaders to stress over the issue and make it a priority for the government, and hence, remains unresolved till date.
The women migrants, who are not subjected to any of this, are not living the lockdown with absolute comfort. Those who are safe, from such miseries, have other issues to worry about especially maternity protection, sexual and reproductive healthcare and other benefits. Incidents of women giving birth while they walk back to their home States have surfaced over the Internet since the lockdown. A pregnant migrant woman was walking back to Chattisgarh and gave birth to a baby girl on NH-44 in Medak district. After the police officials of Narsingi police station got to know about it, they reached the spot immediately and shifted the women and her newborn to Ramyapet hospital. Another incident in which a migrant woman named Deepa who was travelling with her husband and 3 kids, gave birth to a baby boy in Madhya Pradesh in the Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh with the help of another woman. Dr. Faizal Ali, a physician in Ojhar reached to the spot immediately after he was informed of the incident, but the woman already delivered the baby by then, at the side of Mumbai-Agra Highway or NH3. Another migrant woman gave birth to a baby girl under a tree in the Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh after she walked for 500 km on foot from Madhya Pradesh. All the three incidents cited above amply show the lack of healthcare facilities available for migrant women during the lockdown. Many such migrant women gave birth either in camp settings or while their journey on foot back to their home States without any healthcare personnel present at the time of their delivery and if any healthcare personnel tried to reach out to them, he/she was late enough to arrive at the spot after the delivery of the baby. India needs adequate healthcare personnel in camp settings and in places where migrant workers walk on their feet, not only to test them for COVID-19 but also to cater to the special healthcare needs of migrant women. The tightened travel, movement restrictions along with the stigma around the risk of contagion has limited the access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services for migrant women. Also, migrant women suffer from the lack of menstrual hygiene. They do not have enough money to purchase sanitary pads and the government as well did not provide them with sanitary pads. Governments launched relief packages for food, water and other services but did not think of the menstrual hygiene of the poor migrant women in the camp settings even for once. Sanitary pads should’ve been provided by the government as they fall under essentials. As a result, migrant women and girls have resorted to the use of their menstrual items longer than the usual, and unhygienic substitutes such as ashes, soil, old cloth or a rug. Such practices will surely affect their menstrual health and these women will be more prone to both urinary and vaginal infections, cervical cancer, etc. in the long run, if not now. However, the Bengaluru Police provided sanitary pads to 30,000 migrant women in camp settings, which was a great initiative. But the probabilities that the migrant women who walked on their feet or those in other camp settings also get such relief is rare. Hence, there is a dire need that the government takes notice of the problems of migrant women and resolve these issues as soon as possible.
Migrant women have suffered a lot during the COVID-19 induced lockdown. More than two-fold rise has been recorded by NCW in domestic violence cases. Migrant Women do not have the option to rescue their abusive partners even for a while because NGOs and shelter for gender-based violence survivors have been shut down temporarily. All that these women can do is to suffer in silence for now. Rapes and sexual harassment cases have seen an upsurge lately even during the lockdown. Some Migrant women delivered their babies without the help of healthcare personnel on their journey on feet back to their home States. Migrant women and girls do not have sanitary pads and hence, they have to resort to unhealthy and unhygienic substitutes of sanitary pads which will affect their sexual and reproductive health in the long run, if not now.
All the miseries cited throughout the article show how the government has turned a blind eye to the safety of women in the country and treated them as second-class citizens. The Government’s apathy exhibits itself when it does not consider sanitary pads among the essentials for the women.
Article Written By- Muskan Sharma
Law Student– Jamia Milia Islimia
(HRDI Work From Home Internship)
 “COVID-19 and Women’s Human Rights: Guidance”, United Nations Human Rights (OHCHR), available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/COVID-19_and_Womens_Human_Rights.pdf (Last visited on 13th May; 2020)
 “Assessing Sexual and Gender Based Violence during the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone”, UNDP, available at: https://www.sl.undp.org/content/sierraleone/en/home/library/crisis_prevention_and_recovery/assessing-sexual-and-gender-based-violence-during-the-ebola-cris.html (Last visited on 13th May; 2020)
 “Women at the core of fight against COVID-19 response: OECD Policy responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19)”, OECD, available at: https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/women-at-the-core-of-the-fight-against-covid-19-crisis-553a8269/#section-d1e808 (Last visited on 13th May; 2020)
 “Visually challenged woman alleges rape in MP, husband stranded in Rajasthan amid lockdown”, Hindustan Times, available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/visually-challenged-woman-alleges-rape-in-mp-husband-stranded-in-rajasthan-amid-lockdown/story-qxiJn2AQ6KJ5A99WO6kaUM.html (Last visited on 13th May; 2020); “16-year-old girl allegedly raped by friend amid COVID-19 lockdown”, IndiaTV, available at: https://www.indiatvnews.com/crime/jharkhand-dumka-16-year-old-girl-gangraped-amid-coronavirus-lockdown-602242 (Last visited on 13th May; 2020)
 “Migrant from Chattisgarh gives birth to baby girl near NH-44 in Telangana amid COVID-19 lockdown”, The New Indian Express, available at: https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/telangana/2020/may/06/migrant-from-chhattisgarh-gives-birth-to-baby-girl-near-nh-44-in-telangana-amid-covid-19-lockdown-2139705.html (Last visited on 13th May; 2020)
 “COVID-19 Lockdown 3.0: Migrant women delivers baby en route to UP on Mumbai Agra Highway at Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani”, Firstpost, available at: https://www.firstpost.com/health/covid-19-lockdown-3-0-migrant-woman-delivers-baby-enroute-to-up-on-mumbai-agra-highway-at-madhya-pradeshs-barwani-8360291.html (Last visited on 13th May; 2020)
 “Woman migrant delivers baby under tree after 500 km on foot”, Outlook, available at: https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/woman-migrant-delivers-baby-under-tree-after-500-km-on-foot/1831532 (Last visited on 13th May; 2020)
 “Guidance for Action: Addressing the emerging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrant women in Asia and the Pacific for a Gender-responsive recovery”, UN WOMEN, available at: https://www2.unwomen.org/-/media/field%20office%20eseasia/docs/publications/2020/04/migration-f-spotlight.pdf?la=en&vs=3040 (Last visited on 14th May; 2020)