A viral video of a toddler trying to wake up his dead mother at a railway station in eastern India has caused widespread outrage and highlighted one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the country right now.
The images show the body of a 23-year-old woman on the platform of Muzaffarpur railway station in Bihar state on Monday. Her young son can be seen repeatedly tugging at a piece of cloth placed on her body.
Officials said the woman had died moments before on one of the special trains the Indian government is running for hundreds of thousands of poor migrant laborers stuck in big cities due to the ongoing.
The woman had taken the train from Ahmedabad city in Gujarat on Saturday, along with her two children, sister, and sister's husband, heading for her hometown of Katihar, in Bihar state. But she died of "extreme heat, hunger and dehydration" on Monday as the train reached Muzaffarpur station, about 200 miles short of her hometown, Indian news outlets reported, quoting the victim's family.
India's Railways Ministry spokesperson confirmed the woman's death on the train but said the woman had been unwell even before she boarded. The ministry also denied reports of a lack of food and water on the special trains, calling it "fake news."
The poignant images have highlighted India's migrant crisis. Hundreds and thousands of laborers who had migrated from small towns and villages into big Indian cities for work were left to fend for themselves when the Indian government enforced aon March 25 to fight the spread of coronavirus.
Left with no jobs or money to feed their families, throngs of laborers began desperately walking back to their hometowns hundreds of miles away, defying the lockdown. More than 100 of them have died on these journeys so far — some run over by trains or killed in other highway accidents, others collapsing due to hunger and thirst.
News reports of the plight of the migrants and the pressure by opposition political parties pushed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to run the special trains to take migrants home.
But all has not been smooth so far. Migrants reportedly have to endure tedious paperwork, COVID-19 screening, and standing in long lines in the soaring heat.
India has reported more than 150,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 4,300 deaths officially so far. And with thein most parts of the country recently, the daily cases have begun to show a sharp spike.