Thousands of migrant workers in India have been sprayed with a bleach disinfectant after they returned home during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
Video captured by a reporter in the northern city of Bareilly shows migrants forced to sit on the ground after they arrived, as three people in protective gear doused them with the spray.
The disinfectant is usually used to sanitize buses.
Millions of migrant workers in India have been attempting to make their way home after the government locked down the entire country a week ago. Many of the workers were left without food and shelter and had no option but to make long and often deadly journeys home.
The migrants in Bareilly, which is a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, were told by officials when they arrived that they would be put on a bus and given food.
Instead, they were sprayed with the disinfectant, which contained a mixture of water and sodium hypochlorite, according to the Times of India. Sodium hypochlorite is widely used as a bleaching agent in the textile, detergents, and paper industries.
As many as 5,000 people have been "publicly sprayed" when they arrived in Bareilly alone, according to Ashok Gautam, a senior officer in charge of COVID-19 operations in Uttar Pradesh, who spoke to CNN.
“We sprayed them here as part of the disinfection drive, we don't want them to be carriers for the virus and it could be hanging on their clothes, now all borders have been sealed so this won't happen again," Gautam said.
Gautam’s actions were strongly condemned by Lav Agarwal, senior official at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Agarwal said that local officials involved in the incident were “reprimanded,” adding that spraying migrant workers was not a "required" policy in the country. Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called the spraying of migrants "rude and indecent" and called for those responsible to be punished.
The public spraying in Bareilly is just the latest questionable response from officials and law enforcement to the lockdown in India. Police have been embarrassing lockdown offenders, forcing them to do squats, push-ups, or road sweeping in public. The police have also been accused of beating a man to death as he went to a store to buy some milk during the lockdown.
Cover: A group of daily wage laborers walk to return to their villages as the city comes under lockdown in Prayagraj, India, Monday, March 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Ranveer Singh was working as a delivery driver for a restaurant in the Indian capital of New Delhi when the government gave everyone just four hours’ warning that a nationwide lockdown was about to be enforced.
Singh was left with no option but to head home to his village in the Morena district, almost 200 miles away. With transportation links shut down, he set out on foot.
The 39-year-old father of three made it as far as Agra, 125 miles south of the capital, before he collapsed, and died of a heart attack brought on by exhaustion.
Singh is just one of dozens of people who have died making long journeys home after the Indian government’s decision to impose a blanket lockdown last Tuesday, forcing businesses to shutter and giving citizens no time to prepare. Millions of migrant workers in India were left without food or shelter when Narendra Modi made the announcement, and now people are dying on the journeys back home.
In Haryana, a North Indian state surrounding New Delhi, three workers and two children, heading home on foot were crushed to death by a truck. On the outskirts of the city of Hyderabad, seven migrant workers and an 18-month old baby were killed when the truck they were traveling in was hit from behind by a truck loaded with mangoes.
A group of four migrant workers who set out from the western city of Vasai for their home villages in Rajasthan was knocked down and killed after officials forced them to go back to Vasai.
Tens of thousands of migrant workers, some of them with families in tow, tried to escape New Delhi over the weekend, hoping to board the few buses that were still running to their home towns and villages. But police had to beat back many of those trying to make the long journeys.
Migrant workers have blasted the government’s decision to force people living in slums to stay at home for three weeks, claiming the measures will leave them without food. In Kerala on Saturday thousands of people defied the curfew to protest the lockdown, with many of them saying they hadn’t eaten in days.
While some states organized buses to repatriate their migrant workers, on Sunday afternoon the central government ordered states to seal their borders, ordering migrants to stay where they are.
In a rare admission for Modi, the prime minister recognized the huge pressure the lockdown is placing on his citizens, and apologized for the measures on Sunday.
“I apologize for taking these harsh steps that have caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor people," Modi said in his monthly address, broadcast on state radio. “I know some of you will be angry with me. But these tough measures were needed to win this battle.”