Are You suprised ?






Foreign Correspondent



World's Biggest Lockdown

29 mins 05 secs






ABC Ultimo Centre

700 Harris Street Ultimo

NSW 2007 Australia


GPO Box 9994


NSW 2001 Australia

Phone: 61 419 231 533









"We are very worried about the lockdown. I can't even get my daughter's milk for her ... She says, "Mummy I want milk" Where do I get her milk from?'"

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the world's biggest lockdown, he gave the nation of 1.3 billion people only four hours' notice.

He unleashed one of the biggest mass migrations in his nation's history and left the poor in the cities with no means of earning an income or feeding their families.

Tens of millions of migrant workers, who'd moved to the cities to find work, lost their jobs, their wage and their shelter overnight. To find food and shelter, hundreds of thousands hit the road to head back to their villages.

In a bid to stop the exodus of people and the virus to the countryside, governments cancelled trains and buses, and closed state borders. Many kept walking anyway, often trekking hundreds of kilometres to get home.

While the government has tried to help those in need by providing food and financial aid, not everyone has benefitted.

Foreign Correspondent's Emma Alberici tells the story of how the poorest of Indians are coping with this nation wide shut down, and asks, is the cure worse than the disease?

We speak to families living in the slums of Mumbai and Delhi.

"They tell us to wash our hands, change our habits. Where do we have the means to change our habits?" says a desperate father in Delhi, whose family shares one tap with 20 others.

"People are left to fend for themselves and you find migrant labour which is actually creating wealth for Mumbai are thrown under the bus," says a lawyer who works with residents of the Dharavi slum in Mumbai.

We spend time with one of India's top investigative journalists Barkha Dutt who's made it her mission to shine on a light on India's most vulnerable.

"If the lockdown has indeed worked...then a disproportionate amount of that price for keeping the country safe has been paid by the poorest Indian citizens," says Dutt.

We speak with the government who says if it hadn't locked the country down, the virus would have spread and 'it would have led to a catastrophe'.

Celebrated author and activist Arundhati Roy observes, "The poor have been excised from the imagination of this country...This corona crisis sort of exposes the bare bones of what's going on."


Episode teaser.
Huge crowds attempt to flee city




EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  In India, 1.3 billion people have been told to stay home.


Dharavi slum

But what if home looks like this? Could lockdown be more dangerous than the virus?


Title: World's Biggest Lockdown



Workers walking highway
Emma Alberici



Barkha walking with workers

For weeks now, the Indian government has insisted these people just don’t exist. They’re the hordes of workers from big cities whose bosses often give them somewhere to live. Now they’re unemployed and desperate to return to their villages.


Barkha to camera

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist:  We want to pretend that this isn’t happening. And we want to forget that we’re now entering the fifth week of the lockdown, and I’m going to try and talk to some of the women here -- they walk really fast.


Barkha walking with workers

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Barkha Dutt is one of India's most famous journalists. She’s been working with me so we can tell you this story together.


Barkha interviews Rahul

Barkha: "What is your name, brother?"

Rahul: "Rahul."

Barkha: "Rahul, how many days have you been walking?"

Rahul: "It’s been 15 days."

Barkha: "Fifteen days?"

Rahul: "Yes.







The government isn't giving us any food and water and I don't have a job so is I came here, what could I have done?"

Barkha: "But you must know coronavirus, means it’s not safe to move around?"

Rahul: "I’ve heard of corona but the rich people, what do they do? They push us away. That’s why we came here.

Barkha: "How many more kilometres do you have to walk now"?

Rahul: "200 more kilometres."

Barkha: "200 more kilometres!"

Rahul: "Yes."



Barkha: "What job did you do where you were before?"

Rahul: "I used to harvest cumin."

Barkha: "Did you stop getting paid?"

Rahul: "Yes. They stopped paying us."

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Rahul and his family have no choice but to return to their rural homes on foot after the state suddenly suspended all public transport.








Barkha walks with workers along expressway

As the snap shutdown was announced, Barkha Dutt and her team set out to explore India's empty expressways.

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist:  So they are carrying their life’s belongings. They’re obviously much fitter than I am because they’re able to walk faster, they’re able to walk longer and they will walk like this for 10 days if needed, they say. And let’s try and talk to some of the children up ahead, if we can get the camera to move up ahead to some of the very, very young children.


Barkha catches up and talks with Varsha

Barkha: "What’s your name?"

Varsha: "Varsha."

Barkha: "My name is Barkha so our names have the same meaning! How old are you?

Varsha: "I don’t know."

Barkha: "You don’t know?

Varsha: "No."

Barkha: "How will you walk for so many days?"

Varsha: "I’ll manage."

Barkha: "What will you do about food?"

Varsha: "Bread and stuff."


Workers continue along expressway

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Up to 90 per cent of Indians work in the informal economy. They earn around four dollars a day. Many of them are migrant workers. They move to the city chasing odd jobs that pay a daily wage.




Mumbai homes/People wearing masks

They’ve got no security, no legal protections and are vulnerable to poverty and starvation. Calling them 'migrant workers' is ironic because they’re all Indian born and raised. But in a country where the class divide is gargantuan, they may as well be from another place.


Drone shots. Sydney river and parks




EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: With Australia's vast spaces, small population and our wealth it’s not hard to practise social distancing here.


Barkha and Emma video phone call

So Barkha, is the story you’re telling now in India the one you thought you would be recounting when you first hit the streets at the beginning of this crisis?

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist:  Not really, Emma.


Barkha in car on video phone call. Super:
Barkha Dutt
Mojo Story

We thought that our focus in terms of reporting would be much more centred around the coronavirus itself, patients grappling with it, what was happening in the hospitals.  We have 45 million Indians who work as migrant workers. In other words, they migrate from the village which is their home and come to the big city to look for work. And what we found was that when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi first announced the lockdown you had millions of Indians, hundreds of thousands sometimes at one go, just fleeing the cities.






Thousands attempt to flee city Police wield batons




EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  This was the chaos that followed the decision to impose the biggest shutdown in the world. An announcement by PM Narendra Modi at p.m. on the 24th of March gave more than 1.3 billion people just four hours to lock themselves indoors. As people attempted to flee the cities, episodes of police brutality began to appear on social media.


People being sprayed with disinfectant

Some local authorities even sprayed migrant workers with disinfectant. The government says there was no choice but to shut the country down quickly.


Thousands queue for public transport

ASHOK MALIK, Policy adviser, Indian government: You had trains packed with migrants trying to go home – which is completely understandable – but they would have taken the coronavirus


Malik video interview. Super:
Ashok Malik
Policy adviser, Indian government

back to rural areas that were least equipped to dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude and it would have potentially have led to a catastrophic outcome.


Thousands gathered at Mumbai train station

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Two weeks later, when the lockdown was extended, it happened again; authorities used canes to force people away from a Mumbai train station.

"The scenes we saw at the train station


Vinod video interview

gives an impression that the migrant workers are almost the enemy, to be battled rather than looked after."

VINOD SHETTY, Human rights lawyer: The narrative has been created that


Vinod Shetty
Human rights lawyer

the poor are not ready to go into a lockdown and they are jeopardising the lives of the civil society. People are left to fend for themselves and you find migrant labour, which is actually creating wealth for Mumbai, are thrown under the bus.


Drone shots. Mumbai




EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Mumbai is India's richest city. Home to more than 20 million, the streets usually teem with life. No one can remember it looking like this before. The main square and the financial district hide one of the biggest slums on earth –


Dharavi GVs

Dharavi. It’s also one of the country’s COVID-19 hot spots; 1000 people here are infected, at least 56 have died. This city wouldn’t function without the people who live here.


Akram interview

AKRAM SHAH: All the poor, everyone is taking whatever precautions and doing what they can to make sure this disease doesn't spread.


Dharavi GVs

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Dharavi is home to many of the people who work in Mumbai's garment industry. Akram Shah employs migrant workers to sew school uniforms.  We’ve asked him to film his home for us.


Akram at home with family

Before his six workers left, they all lived in two rooms alongside Akram’s family of eight. Now, with no work and no income, Akram says they’ll soon have to rely on donations of food.

AKRAM SHAH: How will people eat three meals a day when there’s only enough for one? All the big media channels are focused on saying this is Dharavi, Asia's biggest slum


Akram interview

and this is the status of the coronavirus here, but why can’t they focus on the fact that the poor of Dharavi should not die of hunger?


Dharvi street

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  The government has already handed out more than 600 million food parcels and it’s announced a rescue package worth 400 billion dollars. Even so, much of the job of looking after the poor is still falling to charities like the one run


Vinod walks with children

by Vinod Shetty.  Here he is with the children in Dharavi shortly before the shutdown was enforced.


Vinod video interview

VINOD SHETTY, Human rights lawyer: The people do not have access to water, clean toilets, hygiene. Water itself is a premium;


Community toilet block

you have to pay to get a few gallons of water and toilets. The average user for toilet seat is 80 people.

Emma: "Eighty!"

VINOD SHETTY, Human rights lawyer:  Eighty. Eight zero.  So with people all locked down



in the slum, the numbers will increase. So all the safe distancing, the physical distance, the sanitation, the washing of hands – all these are very difficult things to implement in a slum.


Drone shots, Delhi



Delhi slum street

Translator: "What is your name?"


Sanjiv and Chandidevi

SANJIV SHAH:  My name is Sanjiv Shah. This is my wife, Chandidevi. My elder daughter is five and a half. I have a two and a half year old daughter named Jahanvi.



Sanjiv walks to home

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  Sanjiv Shah lives in a slum in Delhi. He was born in rural India, but moved to the capital as a child with his mother after his father died and relatives seized their land.  He works six days a week in a factory that makes steam irons supporting his family on less than ten dollars a day. They all live in one tiny room.


Sanjiv shows home

SANJIV SHAH:  This is our kitchen and we move our cooler at night. We sleep on the ground. We wash our utensils here. We go outside to use the bathroom.


Chandidevi prepares meal

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  The factory closed in the lockdown, and the family now survives on food donations. According to the World Health Organization, more than 280 million Indians live below the poverty line – that’s more than one in five. Now even more will go hungry.

CHANDIDEVI:  We are very worried about the lockdown. I can’t even get milk for my daughter.


Sanjiv and Chandidevi

When they don’t get it for even one day “Mummy I want milk.”  Where do I get her milk from?


Chandidevi reading with daughter

I had big dreams for my daughter study, to educate her more than me, so she's successful. But that hasn't come true. 


Sanjiv and Chandidevi

SANJIV SHAH: We ended up illiterate and our children will too, due to the lack of help from government. They tell us to educate our daughters. How do we do that? 






Sanjiv sits with daughters

"Supriya what will you become after you’ve finished studying?"

Daughter: "Doctor."

Sanjiv: "Louder."

Daughter: "Doctor."

Sanjiv: "Doctor?  But to become a doctor you need a lot of money."

Younger daughter: "Doctor."

Sanjiv: "You want to be a doctor as well?"


Drone shots. Delhi



Arundhati Roy at home

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Acclaimed writer Arundhati Roy is spending lockdown at her home in Delhi, not far from the many slums that dot the city.  She’s a long time campaigner for the rights of India’s dispossessed rural poor.

ARUNDHATI ROY, Writer: Until about 15 years ago,



India was a country where, I would say something like 80 per cent of the population lived in rural areas and was involved in agricultural activity.


Arundhati Roy video interview. Super:
Arundhati Roy

There was a huge attack on village people, you know, in terms of huge infrastructure projects, dams, building of highways, and millions of people were being displaced and driven into the city out of complete despair.






Slum GVs

People who had farm land around cities now turn it into sort of workers' quarters and then they literally cram 10 workers into a room. They’re exploited, they are forced to buy rations from these landlords, they live in sort of Dickensian conditions.

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  For Sanjiv and the millions of other Indians crammed into slums, getting ill from COVID-19 is a real concern.


Sanjiv with daughters

SANJIV SHAH:  They tell us to wash our hands, change our habits. How do we have the means to change our habits?


Sanjiv and Chandidevi

We are ready to work with the government, but where is the government coming to help us?


Women collecting water

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Twenty households share one tap which often runs for just an hour a day.

SANJIV SHAH:  We sent the Delhi government a letter, too. We didn’t get any response.


Sanjiv and Chandidevi

We thought our life would get better.  We came to the city, but our life is worthless.


Slum GVs

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  Are you certain that you are, as a government, doing enough to reach


Ashok Malik video interview

those in need?


Ashok Malik
Policy adviser, Indian government

ASHOK MALIK, Policy adviser, Indian government:  In a country of 1.3 billion people you will appreciate that there is – not everyone can be taken care of, even with our best efforts, but the primary concern at that point was that people should stay where they are.





Barkha in car dictating story

Barkha: "India… will not be… another… Italy, comma, France… or USA… full stop..."

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Barkha Dutt has now clocked more than 60 days on the road. She’s exposing the traumas India's most disadvantaged are living through.


Shots from car



Barkha to camera with family of Mukesh Mandal

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist: We came here after we heard that a migrant worker has taken his own life. That the economic hardship proved too much for him to take, and we have here his family, and you have here his wife, his four children and his in laws, his father in law and his mother in law.



EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  These children’s father, Mukesh Mandal, lost his house painting job in the city before the lockdown. With no prospect of income during the pandemic, he sold his mobile phone for 2500 rupees, the equivalent of fifty Australian dollars. He made it back to his village, and a short time later his wife found him dead.


Barkha with father in law

Barkha:  "How did it come to him selling his phone?"

Father in law:  "For eating, everyone was starving to death, kids and everyone."

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist: There’s a part of me, as a reporter, who feels terrible coming to







Barkha to camera

talk to a family in this moment of their loss, and there’s another part of me that feels that if I didn’t do it, if we didn’t invade their grief, as it were, at this moment perhaps this family and other families like them would never get help. It’s pouring down here and we can go back to the shelter of our homes and to the material comforts of our lives, but this family is not just battling corona, it is battling extreme economic hardship.






EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: The Indian government shut down the country fast when it saw what was happening to overburdened hospitals overseas. Even before the virus hit, the health system was already struggling. The country has among the world’s highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and tuberculosis.


Barkha on street to camera

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist: When they say the coronavirus is a great equaliser, that’s simply not true. There is a disproportionate number of poor people who are suffering, and one more thing you know, when the government says stay at home to Indians and says you’re safe, that’s for people like me, my class of people. But for 92 million Indian households who actually stay in one room, one room tenements, stay at home can sometimes mean eight people to a room. 


Hospital exterior

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  Today, Barkha Dutt is speaking to me from outside one of the country’s biggest hospitals.


Barkha to camera outside hospital

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist:  This is one of the hospitals where normally a lot of our poorest patients come for medical treatment, for everything from tuberculosis to cancer to HIV treatment. This hospital has now become a COVID only facility.


Barkha with man on motorbike outside hospital/Emma watches on phone

In fact, when we were here this morning, we met this gentleman who's driven from outside the capital to come and try and get some medical help here. He’s an HIV positive patient, he’s been diagnosed with AIDS and he came to collect some very important medicine.



"If you don’t get it here, where will you go?"

Man on motorbike: "Madam, I’m not sure where I'll get it from."



EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: So what option does that gentleman have now for treatment?

BARKHA DUTT, Journalist:  As we just saw, Emma, the fact is that poor Indian patients are going hospital to hospital, and still in many cases unable to get medical intervention and this is a growing concern for the country now as we battle the pandemic – what happens to the non COVID poor patients of India?


Woman with baby outside hospital

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Outside of the main cities it’s even harder to find medical treatment.

RAMANAN LAXMINARAYAN, Epidemiologist:  The south of India, in health system terms, resembles Thailand and the north of India resembles Sierra Leone.


Ramanan video interview

So you’re talking about vastly different capacities within a single country.



EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan is an epidemiologist and health economist who splits his time between India and the United States.





Tuberculosis, we know, is a particular challenge for India, killing something I understand like 1,300 people a day. How is the hospital system dealing with that demand alongside the challenges of COVID-19?


Ramanan Laxminarayan

RAMANAN LAXMINARAYAN, Epidemiologist:  So this has been a real challenge in India, which is that outpatient departments have been shut down and people requiring care for more routine things like tuberculosis, like cancer, like other chronic diseases, have often been turned away. Because of the nature of the lockdown which has been extremely strict,

which makes sense from a COVID standpoint, it probably is exacerbating deaths from other causes, and this is really is a tragedy,


Women sleeping on street

because it’s not as if these other diseases come to a halt just because COVID is around. They are all continuing.

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  As far as the coronavirus threat goes, the situation in India is not yet as serious as experts feared it might be, with only 3,000 recorded deaths as of May the 18th. The country’s relative youth could be a factor;  65 per cent of the population is under 35 years of age, but without significantly more testing the true rate of infection is


Barkha in car on video call with Emma

impossible to know.

"How transparent is government being with providing you with that essential information? Indeed, how co-operative are the hospitals being in terms of providing the data?"



Barkha Dutt
Mojo Story

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist: Well Emma, there is a daily press briefing that the federal government, the Modi Government holds, where you have officials give you the latest numbers of COVID infected and how many deaths there have been. But beyond that, the real stories are not stories that as you know come from governments giving you those stories; you have to go out and you really have to go out and find those stories, to ferret out the information. If I had not been at the borders


Workers walking highway

I would never have met the workers who were walking hundreds of kilometres, you know, in search of home. Often without food.





Night. Barkha and crew driving to Indore. Barkha working

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Barkha Dutt and her crew are now driving south from Delhi to reach another of India's COVID-19 hotspots.



Barkha: "The child walking on the stones – we must have that in the report."



EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: For more than 20 years, she's hosted a prime time tv talk show.  Now she runs her own digital media company.

Barkha: "So I have may have mispronounced that name in the VO but maybe you can’t tell."

Woman on phone: "You can’t really tell, if you had mispronounced it I would have caught it."



EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Posts on her YouTube channel have been viewed 33 million times. 






Driving in Indore. Morning

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Sixteen hours later they finally arrive. The city of Indore was one of the first to shutter its shop fronts, barricade its town square. It’s an area with a large Muslim community. With direct flights from Dubai, it’s thought the outbreak in Indore may have come from there.


Barkha in empty market site talking with Emma

Barkha:  "So Emma, hello, hello… Oh my god, incredible. I mean we were stopped every hundred metres It was a complete struggle to get here, so we are on like two hours of sleep and no food.



EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Thirty per cent of India's early coronavirus cases were blamed on a mass gathering in Delhi of one particular Islamic sect. Muslim communities across the country are now feeling afraid.


Barkha with man in market site

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist: "So Emma, let me just tell you what he’s actually saying. He’s saying that in some homes here in this predominantly Muslim neighbourhood there is a fear of stigma and backlash among Muslims, and that’s something we have been showing is happening across cities of India. A very high number of Muslims went to hospitals and were not able to be treated.



EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  To the extent that you can gauge it in a lockdown, what’s the mood like there in Indore?







Barkha to camera in market site

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist: Oh, surreal. You know where I’m standing there was a wholesale market, you couldn’t find breathing space. This city has an all-night food bazaar. It was one of my favourite places to come to. And all of that just seems now from an alternative universe and so much in our life and the world as we know it has changed. You come to all these cities that used to be throbbing with life and pulsating with people and you suddenly have, you know, just emptied out streets. You have a bluer sky, but that’s not enough compensation for no life on the streets.


Shuttered Indore shops and city barricades




EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter:  The Indian government is taking tentative steps to reopen its economy, even while the number of coronavirus cases is rising rapidly.

"Do you think the shutdown been worth the cost to the Indian economy,


Emma interviews Ashok Malik on computer

not just in dollar terms, but in overall wellbeing of your people, given the fact that there was general poor health among your population going into this pandemic?"


Ashok Malik video interview. Super:
Ashok Malik
Policy adviser, Indian government

ASHOK MALIK, Policy adviser, Indian government:  The lives versus livelihoods sort of equation is a difficult one, it's also an ethical dilemma. Early in the crisis in the UK and even in India, people spoke about herd immunity being the only way to fight this. Now it sounds nice when you're writing an op-ed and


Workers walking

using tones like herd immunity. In a country of 1.3 billion people, it could have led to maybe a million deaths, maybe more, I can't even put a number to it.


Migrant workers walking along railway track

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Migrant workers are still walking the long journey home, eight weeks after they suddenly found themselves unemployed and penniless.


Barkha walking with men

Even though some public transport is now running again, these cement workers say they had no money for a ticket.

Barkha: "Tell me how many kilometres will you walk like this?"

Man: "We are 1300 away from Bihar."

Barkha: "1300!"



EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: Many of the migrant workers are telling Barkha Dutt they don’t plan to return to the cities.



Man:  "No, we will never come back to work at the cement factory. The company really betrayed us."

Barkha: "You will never come back?"

Man: "We won’t come back."

Barkha: "You tell me, will you come back?"

Man 2: "No, even I won’t come back either."


Men walking along highway

EMMA ALBERICI, Reporter: The lockdown may have slowed the spread of the virus, but it’s also exposed some uncomfortable truths.


Emma on computer. Video call with Barkha

"Barkha, what have been the lessons from this pandemic, do you think, for India?"

BARKHA DUTT, Mojo Story journalist: Well I think, for me, what it’s taught me, is that even I didn’t notice, or I had become numb to the class divide of my country, to the deep inequalities.


Men walk along railway line and path

And I think this is a reminder to us that if the lockdown has indeed worked, and I hope it has, and it seems to have, then a disproportionate amount of that price for keeping the country safe has been paid by the poorest Indian citizens and for that I think we owe them. Instead, we have so many of our elites acting as if they are the problem.


Credit start [see below]



Outpoint after credits







Emma Alberici



Marianne Leitch

Bronwen Reed



Gurmeet Sapal



Leah Donovan



Savitri Choudhury

Simi Chakrabarti 


Mojo Story

Barkha Dutt

Prashanti Tyagi

Vinod Kumar

Madan Lal


Mumbai Drone

Mumbai Live


Additional footage

Trashopolis”, Courtesy Pixcom 


Assistant Editor

Tom Carr



Digital Producer 

Matt Henry 


Archive Research

Michelle Boukheris


Senior Production Manager

Michelle Roberts


Production Co-ordinator

Victoria Allen


Supervising Producer 

Lisa McGregor  


Executive Producer 

Matthew Carney
© 2020 Australian Broadcasting Corporation


© 2019 Journeyman Pictures
Journeyman Pictures Ltd. 4-6 High Street, Thames Ditton, Surrey, KT7 0RY, United Kingdom

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more info see our Cookies Policy