Indian Decade

The Games Unseen Migrants

Migrant workers are just one of the unreported shames of the Commonwealth Games.

For the past month and a half, as I’ve taken my little daughter to her school, I’ve noticed a set of blue tarpaulin tents constructed on a busy flyover. Each morning, men would emerge from them and bathe along their edges using buckets of water. Though appalled with their abject living conditions, I’d assumed that they were simply poor migrant workers who had squatted along the highway. Shocking as that may be, it’s hardly an uncommon or unusual sight in India's major cities.

Imagine my dismay when on Friday I actually saw signs which read PWD and CWG placed in front of the shanties! PWD as everyone in India knows, stands for Public Works Department, the state-run construction company of yore, known and despised for its mostly rough hewn construction projects nationwide. CWG, of course, stands for the Commonwealth Games.

In effect these hapless souls inhabiting the edges of a major highway flyover were migrant workers who were living in these wretched conditions with the full knowledge and acceptance of the Indian state! Worse still, they are the ones who have been toiling every day through pelting rain, unrelenting humidity and on occasion, blazing sunshine, to construct magnificent edifices to show off India's ability to host a major international sports meet.

Both print and electronic media in India have done a most creditable job of highlighting the cost overruns, the corruption and the delays associated with the upcoming CWG. However, apart from a few news items in major newspapers about the plight of the CWG workers there has been deafening silence on the subject. India justifiably prides itself on being an open, democratic and free society. Yet one is forced to wonder about the quality of its democracy when it treats its most vulnerable citizens in this utterly inhumane and callous fashion.