A video circulating on social media showing migrants sprayed with disinfectant to fight the spread of the coronavirus sparked outrage in India.
Health workers in India caused outrage Monday on social media after spraying a group of migrant workers with chemical disinfectant, amid fears that a massive displacement of people from cities to the countryside could spread the novel coronavirus.
A video that circulated online showed a group of migrant workers in a district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh being doused in disinfectant by health officials.
Several opposition leaders attacked the ruling far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state for its "cruel and inhuman" treatment of the poor.
"The workers have already suffered a lot. Please don't wash them with chemicals now. This will not protect them and instead endanger their health," tweeted Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The top government official in the district, Nitish Kumar, said health workers had been ordered to disinfect buses but in their zeal had also turned their hoses on migrant workers.
"I have asked for action to be taken against those responsible for this," he said in a tweet.
Last week, India imposed an unprecedented nationwide three weeks lockdown, prompting thousands of workers to return to their villages after losing their jobs.
Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh: Migrant workers and their families on whom disinfectant is being sprayed..— NewsHamster (@NewsHamster1) March 30, 2020
A simple question, why wasn't this done on those who returned to India in flights...? #UttarPradesh #migrantworkers #IndiaVsCorona #Coronaindia #BREAKING pic.twitter.com/p7ILuQjA98
Many of them are now being turned away by fellow villagers fearing the exodus may bring the coronavirus into their areas, especially with authorities cramming people onto buses, into relief camps and homeless shelters.
In West Bengal state's Purulia district, seven migrant workers seeking to return home were denied entry to their villages. Some were forced to take temporary shelter in trees.
"Since the workers didn't have personal rooms at home, the villagers decided that they should be isolated. But owing to fears of attacks by wild elephants they built temporary tree homes by attaching cots to branches," local official Dhrubapada Shandilya said by phone.
"They were living in the trees for about five days when we came to know about it. We moved all of them to a health center on the weekend," he added.
Villagers across India have reportedly raised barricades, thrown trees and dug trenches to stop outsiders from entering as groups of young people have been guarding the entry points.
India is home to 1.3 billion people. So far, authorities have reported more than 1,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 29 deaths.