Peter McGuire’s idea, of the American labor-class having a day dedicated to them alone, saw NY city celebrating with picnics, the first-ever such commemorative day on Sept. 5, 1882.
Interestingly, the present International Workers’ Day was declared in 19th century by the International Socialist Conference to be observed worldwide on 1st May annually to honor those of the labor class who died in the Chicago Haymarket Square Blast on 1st May, 1886.
However, ‘Antarrashtriya Shramik Diwas’ was first commemorated in India only in 1923 when the Labor Kisan Party of Hindustan held twin-meetings in Madras (present-day Chennai) on 1st May that year, using the red flag as a sign representing the labor class, passing a resolution that declared it a nationwide holiday on every 1st May thereafter!
India witnessed its 97th Labor Day this time in the Holy month of Ramadan, with the backdrop of lockdown-silence being intermittently broken by good samaritans from the civil society, authorities, medical professionals, and NGOs struggling to address the need-of-the-hour in these troubled times.
All these ‘brave little tin-soldiers’ (an expression I loved to use in childhood to praise those who I saw working tirelessly towards a cause, much like a Queen bee’s team or the ants of the infamous “Ants & the Cricket” tale!) seem to be desperately trying to help the suffering, penniless, and mostly homeless & hopeless laborers feel the country-wide tidal wave of empathy and solidarity flowing towards them to embrace them with arms of dignity and social justice- noble ideals emanating from the will of “We, the People of India” embroidered in our Constitutional fabric by the golden thread of the Preamble.
Ours is a land where Lord Ram practiced the lofty ‘Raj-Dharma’ only to keep his subjects/’prajaa’ content with his rule; Mahatma Buddha relinquished his right to inherit the throne just to seek the ‘ultimate truth’, practicing compassion all along, finally attaining enlightenment; Emperor Ashoka’s edicts testify that he was considered the ultimate ‘father-figure’ by his subjects for his endless work towards maximizing their welfare; Guru Nanak Dev spent his life questioning social inequalities and demonstrating true love for all life-forms; freedom-fighters and reformes gave their all to try ushering in an age valuing social justice; Mother Teresa served day-and-night to battle against discriminations, and selflessly healed the suffering. Examples are infinite, but lesson-learning might have turned finite, with the cries of the hungry being unable to awaken many of us today from our ‘slumber-of-inaction’, signifying deep-rooted moral decay — a crime, or even ‘sin of the highest order’ as per the teachings of the Holy Bhagvad Gita.
During present times, as the world saw the tragic drama of the pandemic unfold, India saw a mass-exodus of a scale last witnessed 7 decades ago, during the 1947-partition!
Around 40% of our population, which equals more than 50 crore people, comprise our workers, many of them being migrant laborers, who have been the worst-hit during this lockdown since March-end to date. With a hand-to-mouth existence, uncertainty in getting work, no proper social-security net in place for this unorganized workforce, hardly any alternate livelihood options open (with less or no skills, low or no education, negligible awareness about rights or minimum wages, and the currently shut economy anyway!), they are grossly vulnerable, and facing a grim future…or maybe even worse — a question-mark on their present existence itself! Having been packed-like-sardines in various ‘make-shift dwelling places’ across the country, of course with scanty or no regular meals (let alone minimum nutrition), dismal sanitation-facilities, heightened risk of catching several kinds of infections, and the persistent anxiety of facing bereavement-pangs (due to the huge possibility of separation from their kin), the worst of all experiences for them would surely remain — their dignity being crushed by their own fellow countrymen and elected representatives, with them being treated as unwanted and invisible entities of human flesh!
Consequently, most of them thought it wise to prefer moving to their respective villages/towns, choosing to die of the virus once amidst their loved ones than dying alone of hunger, and wanted the Government to at least respect this unusual ‘death-wish’ of theirs, not understanding or even caring to think much about the possible ramifications of such a mass-exodus…obviously not-to-be-blamed!
But if this situation is viewed from the lens of the laymen, most of us have been unable to comprehend the mismanagement of affairs as got projected through multiple incidents of insensitivity displayed by authorities during initial stages, absence of systematic and phased COVID-testing prior to confining millions in cramped spaces, lack of proper strategy to isolate the infected from the rest/conduct mass-sanitization, failure in ensuring access to basic meals+sanitation facilities+healthcare+essential clothing-requirement to all those forcefully confined.
All this compels me to wonder at the stark divide between the theoretical UDHR ideals proudly ascribed to by India and the harsh realities today, the basic structure of our Constitution resting on the majestic rule of law on one hand but blind towards the idea of India being an all-encompassing whole, the age-old culture of humanistic thinking & interdependent living prevalent in our nation versus the ‘human distancing’ practiced even by house-owners whose houses were once built perhaps by some of these very laborers!
This May Day in India saw no picnics as in the U.S. of 1880s, but laborers falling to sleep on empty stomachs, perhaps strangely soothed by the anesthetic overdose of myriad pain; the redness in the red flag-symbol of the labor-class is now recalled maybe only through the ‘red zones’ categorized by the Government to contain the most dangerous ‘corona-hotspots’ of the nation!
Before putting aside my ‘thinker-cap’, I would like to optimistically remind myself of the brilliant saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining”, and am forced to express heartfelt gratitude to the present-day frontline warriors & COVID-fighters who are trying their best to set things right, risking their lives to enliven souls, dropping down their guards to help raise a downtrodden’s dignity, or shall we say, ‘enabling many on this May Day to have a hope-ray’?…