Do India's biggest sporting stars not feel the pain of migrant workers?

Cyclone Amphan, one of the fiercest storms to hit the eastern part of India, left a trail of misery with many losing their lives. As of 22 May, the death toll stood at 80 and is expected to rise in the coming time. The plight of people has moved many with condolences pouring in on Twitter. India’s sporting superstars have been at the forefront of extending support to fellow citizens as parts of Odisha and West Bengal have been ravaged by the cyclone. The likes of Virat Kohli, Sunil Chhetri, and Leander Paes offered emotional prayers on the social media platform as the authorities took the stock of the destruction caused by Cyclone Amphan.

It’s not for the first time that our sporting heroes have used Twitter to connect with the citizens who are in pain. The social media platform is a regular medium of communication for the box office athletes to extend support to those in crisis, be it the Visakhapatnam gas leak or the impact of the deadly COVID-19. While their support for the distressed is something that binds all of these stars, there’s also an absence of certain something that ties them together. The who’s who of Indian sporting world have maintained an eerie silence on Twitter over the ongoing migrant crisis. Any mention of it, if any, in an interview has come across as a passing mention.

 Do Indias biggest sporting stars not feel the pain of migrant workers?

The coronavirus forced lockdown has led to unprecedented migrant workers' exodus in India. AP image

It’s not as if they don’t care about the workers making the long, treacherous walk back to their homes during the coronavirus-induced lockdown in India. Few of them have mentioned about the work they or their foundations have been doing to provide support to the underprivileged bogged down by the limitations imposed upon them by the lockdown. Many might also be doing much more behind the scene. But let’s not also underestimate the power of Twitter which has been mirroring the life of these stars. The boom of social media has cut down the distance between these sporting greats and their fans, or the general public for that matter, to the minimum.

These stars constantly use social media platforms to share the pain of people around them, provide the encouraging words, spread awareness on critical issues, urge people for behavioural change, celebrate the proudest moments as an Indian; even something as personal as Mother’s Day is celebrated on Twitter. Pick the biggest stars and their timeline would reflect all of it. And in light of that, for this compassionate bunch, the biggest of stars to not find the time or need to draft a few words on the crisis that had millions suffering their worst does look a bit strange. Even more so when you consider the unprecedented nature of the crisis.

The stories of the hardships with many women and children at the centre of it are just heartbreaking. Millions of our fellow citizens are on roads. They have one thing in common, with no money and hope left, they are desperate to reach home during this lockdown as COVID-19 continues to cause havoc.

Remember when 16 migrant workers died as a goods train ran over them in Maharashtra's Aurangabad while they were on their way home? Or when 24 were killed in an accident on a highway in UP’s Auraiya as they were returning in a truck? The images and videos of such incidents will haunt us for a very long time. We know about the pregnant woman who took the long road to her home, gave birth to her child during the journey, and then started walking again. Images of blisters on the feet as people, let down by governments and systems, march towards their homes with the determination to not let anyone else decide their own fate would become the telling templates of this lockdown.

Not all of the sporting world is immune to the plight of the migrants. We have an Irfan Pathan expressing shock, Jwala Gutta demanding action or a Darren Caldeira expressing helplessness among others.

While these stars are well known, there’s the group of A-listers who are missing. So why is it? Is it by design?

We have seen how expressing opinions over political issues in India by celebrities comes at its own cost. There’s trolling on social media, but it could also mean paying a bigger price with politicians commanding strong influence on sporting matters. No one wants to upset governments with non-cricketers relying on the sports federations, while we know how things work at the BCCI. It could be because of this dangerous combination of sports and politics that the best want to stay away. Or maybe not.

However, A-listers making some noise about a crisis could expedite relief for the migrants and there’s no doubt in that. Top athletes are big influencers as well. They could make governments or administration take note of things and help them in course correction. It would disapprove the theory that people at the bottom of the pyramid are just numbers or statistics to the ones at the top. And it doesn’t really have to be a criticism, or about taking a stand but maybe just a few words of compassion. That would go a long way in helping the migrant workers and their families. After all, who would know better than a sportsperson about pain and struggle?

Compassion and empathy have always been important principles of sports. But for now, it seems the more successful they become, the further they move away from the weak. Far enough that poor being sprayed with disinfectant and being stripped of their dignity doesn't really evoke the response one would expect. And that makes you wonder: Do our biggest sporting stars not feel the pain of migrant labourers?

Updated Date: May 24, 2020 11:55:23 IST



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