How does NDTV survive in India

They are called "Shramik Special", loosely translated it means "Workers Express". India's day laborers have been longing for such special trains for six weeks. The good old railroad is now supposed to bring all migrant workers on the subcontinent back to their home villages. Since May 1st, the first wagons have been rolling back and forth across the vast country with its 1.3 billion people. The stranded can finally go home. That is the good news. But the agony of day laborers is not likely to end there.

Even if the Indian railway is in a dilapidated condition in many places and the plans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government for high-speed trains are dragging along: the rail network connects all regions of India like no other means of transport. There is no other way for all those migrant workers who have not earned anything for weeks. Since the beginning of the lockdown, they wanted to get away from the cities that have remained unfamiliar to them, but which nevertheless secured their survival and that of their families under great strain - before Corona.

Thousands tried to walk, some walked hundreds of kilometers without knowing whether they were still welcome in their villages. The police often quarantined the newcomers, and others were beaten up because they were out on the streets. Survival in India is a daily struggle for many millions. In times of curfews, it has become even tougher. In the end the day laborers lived only on what others gave them or what the state distributed among the poor. In the state of Gujarat in the west, the nerves were recently so cold that several hundred migrant workers threw stones when police officers stopped them on their way.

A discovery in Indore in central India also made clear how great the desperation is. There, 18 people had hidden inside a cement mixer to survive a journey of 1200 kilometers in the sweltering heat. The plan failed and they were caught during an inspection. Film footage showed how one worker after another forced their way out of the drum through a narrow hole. End of a desperate drive. Only the train still offers a chance.

Many have no more rupees in their pockets, but Raju Kumar Mandal, who boarded a workers' express in Kerala, had to pay for the ticket for the journey home himself. "I asked mom and dad," said the young Indian to the broadcaster NDTV, his parents had to transfer money to him first, because he had previously sent almost all of his earnings to the family.

When the government imposed the curfew in March - just four hours in advance - not only was their job and income gone in one fell swoop, they were all stuck in their labor camps, on construction sites and under bridges because nobody was allowed to move . As TV images from Madhya Pradesh state showed, many had no more than a few bottles of water and a bag with them when they arrived at the train station, with cloths over their mouths and noses. Hundreds of day laborers were already waiting there at a distance of one and a half meters on the platforms, monitored by police officers so that they didn't get too close to one another.

A political dispute has broken out over the cost of the journeys, because many who now take the long journey either individually or with their families cannot pay for the tickets themselves. The news platform quoted one of the angry workers India Today: "The government can raise millions to bring back the rich who are stranded abroad," the man grumbled. "But she doesn't have the money to bring home the poorest and those who work the hardest. We're supposed to pay for that ourselves now." The opposition Congress Party quickly took up the issue, its leader Sonia Gandhi declared that her party would cover the costs out of solidarity, and attacked the government of Narendra Modi for asking the poorest to pay for their tickets themselves. This was not without effect: a few hours later a spokesman for the ruling BJP party declared that the national railroad would bear 85 percent of the costs, the rest would have to be borne by the individual states.

Even if many workers now have at least the prospect of returning to their home villages, this hardly changes their existential misery. Millions are on the brink. They hope that they will now have better protection with their families, but there is as little work there as on the closed construction sites, where they recently worked for the equivalent of three to five euros a day.

Despite a billion dollar package that the government has launched to provide the poorest with essentials during the lockdown, economist Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee declares that none of this will be enough. Hundreds of millions of Indians would now have to get money very quickly so that they could spend something as soon as the lockdown is loosened.

But what is on the minds of other countries also applies to India: It will not be easy to boost supply without triggering new infections at the same time, which could then lead to a renewed lockdown. At the beginning of the week, the number of registered Covid-19 cases in India climbed to over 42,000. The curve is not quite as steep as in the severely affected countries of Europe or the United States, but there is no all-clear. Modi has extended the curfew until mid-May for the time being. That is how long the penniless day laborers have to hold out. At least.