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When will it end? Toddler tugs at dead mother's shroud at Muzaffarpur Stn

New Delhi: By the time the Supreme Court of India had taken suo motu cognizance of the unprecedented and seemingly unending migrant worker crisis on Tuesday, it was already too late for the 35-year-old mother who had on Monday died of exhaustion, hunger and thirst on her way to Katihar from Ahmedabad on board a Shramik Special train.

Haunting images surfaced on Wednesday when a video of the woman's toddler was shared on social media. As the woman's body was laid haphazardly on a Muzaffarpur station platform, covered with a blanket, her toddler kept trying to wake her up — not knowing that its mother would never open her eyes again.

The video showed the toddler trying to pull off the blanket from its mother's body and trying in vain to wake her up. After a few seconds, as the PA systems continued to holler train announcements, the child covers its own face in the blanket and trails away from the woman's corpse — which had now been exposed.

Reports showed that another two-year-old child had died on the same station purportedly as a result of inadequate food. Moreover, a 58-year-old man was found to have died on board another Shramik Special train on its way to Uttar Pradesh.

While the video from Muzaffarpur shook the conscience of the entire nation yet again amid the host of videos and photos that have emerged from India's migrant crisis, inflicted upon the country's poorest as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, Dy SP Ramakant Upadhyay, of the Government Railway Police in Muzaffarpur claimed that the woman was unwell from before and that she and her family did not face any trouble getting food or water.

However, the woman's brother-in-law, who was travelling with her has reportedly said that she got sick on the train due to a lack of food and water.

And while the Apex Court has now decided to take up the plight of these migrant workers, it has done so after over 200 migrant workers were killed in road and rail accidents trying to get back home, thousands of others had been injured on their arduous journeys and hundreds of others had died of exhaustion and starvation on their way back.

Significantly, the top court's cognizance of the matter had come only after the CJI and SC judges had received a letter from around 20 senior advocates who had said that the "deference shown by the Hon'ble Supreme Court to the government's bland assertions" and "apparent indifference" was a matter of violation of the fundamental rights of the millions of poor in the country and that urgent attention from the judiciary is the need of the hour.

The letter, signed by eminent lawyers such as P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Prashant Bhushan, Indira Jaising, Anand Grover, Siddharth Luthra, Mihir Desai and many others, had especially drawn attention to the March 31 statement of Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, who had claimed there were no migrant workers on the road as of that date; which was proven false time and again by news reports of the migrant workers walking and dying on the highways of India.

The letter, which was received by the Supreme Court on Monday evening, also made scathing remarks against the top court's refusal to entertain many petitions asking for judicial interference in the matter by citing it was a "policy decision" or that the court "could not monitor the movement of migrant workers".

In fact, the lawyers mentioned that the court's "institutional deference" to statements made on behalf of the government, which had already been proven to be inaccurate, would amount to the Supreme Court "having abdicated its constitutional role and duty to these teeming millions of poor, hungry migrants" if not rectified immediately.

News reports have shown that nearly 1,000 people have died due to the direct consequences brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown, including committing suicide due to lack of employment. And while the Centre had started running Shramik Special trains from May 1, the trains even if run at full capacity will take months to take migrants back home.

Furthermore, Railways officials have said many trains travelling to Bihar and UP had been diverted amid reports that Shramik trains were losing their way. Officials claimed that the trains were diverted as these routes were getting congested but testimonies from migrants on these trains showed that they were not informed of the diversions and neither were they provided food.

And while the suo motu case is set to be heard today (Thursday), Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala has filed an Intervening Application in the matter seeking a slew of institutional measures to deal with the migrant worker crisis. Surjewala also mentions that since Parliament has been suspended, opinions and suggestions of no member from any party other than the ruling party's disposition had been considered by the Centre.

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