The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, more than ever before, the critical link between adequate housing and the protection of health and life. As states imposed lockdowns and issued ‘stay at home’ orders to prevent the spread of the pandemic, those without homes were left without adequate protection. In India, the most severely affected by the pandemic, the related lockdowns, and the resultant loss of livelihoods have been daily-wage workers, including homeless and landless people, migrant workers, agricultural labourers, fish workers, and others employed in the ‘informal’ sector.
On 24 March 2020, with just a four-hour notice, India announced a 21-day lockdown, the first of four lockdowns that extended until 31 May 2020. As cities shut down, migrant workers were stranded without work, income, food, and in many instances, housing. Despite the nationwide lockdown, in the absence of social protection and adequate state support, migrant workers felt compelled to leave cities to return to their villages, even though they did not have any means of transport. Most of them travelled hundreds of kilometres on foot and via other precarious modes, often at great risk to their lives, just to reach ‘home.’
Given reports of the distress experienced by migrant workers, especially the sudden homelessness experienced by them on declaration of the national lockdown, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) decided to conduct a primary field research study to understand their housing and living conditions and needs. This study aims to document the living conditions of migrant workers, particularly their access to housing and land in Delhi—where they lived—and in their villages as well as the challenges faced by them during the COVID-19 crisis. While the lockdown has been lifted in India, in phases from 1 June 2020, lessons learned from this period can be used to frame land and housing policies and to develop low-cost social housing models, not only for migrant workers, but also for all those living in homelessness and inadequate housing in urban and rural areas.
This report was originally published in December 2020 by Housing and Land Rights Network.