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Nisid Hajari

India’s Grim Coronavirus Exodus Has Some Ugly Echoes

As with partition in 1947, its leaders are again underestimating the power of fear.

They carry some heavy historical baggage.

They carry some heavy historical baggage.

Photographer: Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images

While many nations see echoes of the 1918 influenza epidemic, or even the medieval Black Death, in their battle against the new coronavirus, India is being reminded of a more modern tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of desperately poor workers and their families have taken to the roads in recent days, fleeing cities for their home villages in a mass migration reminiscent of the 1947 Partition that gave birth to modern India and Pakistan.

The images that began flooding out of India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a three-week “lockdown” of the country starting March 24 have in some ways been as heart-wrenching as newsreel footage from 1947: men and women with feet worn bloody by walking hundreds of miles in brutal heat; children clamoring for food; crowds clinging to the roofs of the few overcrowded buses still running; migrants cowering under the batons of police and, in one appalling case, drenched by  “disinfectant” sprayed on them as if they were livestock. The crisis has drawn the attention of the global media and India’s Supreme Court.