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‘Is pet ke khatir’: India’s migrants keep walking

New Delhi, May 12, 2020-

Jitendra Singh’s feet had blisters and infections creeping in due to walking from Haryana’s Rohtak to home in Uttar Pradesh’s Hardoi. We caught up with him near Agra where he was taking a brief break.

Asked why he was undertaking such an arduous journey with a risk of contacting the deadly coronavirus, he retorted: “Bilkul dar nahi hai. Is pet ke khatir sab such chhorna parta hai (I have no fear of the disease. You have to let go of such fears to feed yourself).”

Singh is but one manifestation of the humanitarian crisis that unfolded with the announcement of the first lockdown on March 24 and it continues. Despite running special trains – much later – for the migrant labourers to return home, the enormity of the crisis can be gauged that across the length and breadth of India, they are still forced to walk on national highways, and along railway tracks with an hope to reach the ‘haven’ of their home.

The story is no different nearly 2,000 km away in Tamil Nadu. Caught in the lockdown, migrant workers from states like Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and other places desperately want to go back home from the southern state.

A large number of workers from the L&W construction site near Chennai have left by foot for Bihar a couple of days back and others have been put up in a makeshift shelter by the police there.

“The police are saying arrangements will be made to send us back by train. We are hoping we will reach home soon. It is too early to say whether I will come back here,” one migrant labourer among them told IANS.

IANS also spoke over phone to few labourers who left from the same construction site a couple of days back. One of them said: “We are now near Odisha. There are some people in Chennai and some of us have decided to walk down.”

Away from the politics of who is paying for their bus or train fares, Habib, another migrant worker from Bihar working at L&W site, said he was not able to afford the bus fare and hence decided to stay back.

At a time when those who were forced to stay back at the Chennai plant are toying with the idea of leaving on foot, Jitendra Paswan has made one fourth of his journey home walking from Noida to Bihar’s Gaya. Wearing a dirty single use mask and accompanied by around ten others, Paswan was spotted on a highway in Uttar Pradesh.


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The summer had peaked and the afternoon sun was scorching enough for them to decide to take a break in the shade of a boundary wall. “Sir hamare pas online karne ke like koi suvidha nahi the (We had no provision to apply online),” he said when asked why he avail benefit of a train being run for migrants like him.

However there are some fortunate ones like Sunil Kumar. He and his family were stranded in Dera Bassi, near Chandigarh, for over a month as he lost his job owing to closure of his factory. But on Tuesday, he managed to get on a train back to his home state, with all expenses paid by the Chandigarh Administration.

“It is a big relief for us. I will return only when the coronavirus scare is over,” he told IANS.

However, all are not as fortunate. In Haryana, a migrant labourer was killed and another injured when a car hit a group of migrants on the highway near Ambala cantonment on Tuesday, police said. The labourers were headed towards their native village in Bihar’s Purnia district from Ludhiana in Punjab on foot as they could not get a berth in the special trains.

This great Indian migrant crisis cannot be divided in black and white, it is nuanced. While Sunil is happily enjoying his breakfast provided by the Chandigarh Administration, Ghanshyam, along with 50 others, start their long march on foot to Madhya Pradesh. Quite ironically so, on a day the government restarts limited train services.

“Whether we survive or die, it is upon god, but we will walk all the way home to Madhya Pradesh,” he said. Their journey on foot started on Tuesday from the national capital as they were unable to afford the rail tickets for the special air conditioned trains announced by the Railway Ministry.

Ghanshyam, who is in his late 40s, said that they don’t have a smartphone and they don’t know how to use the internet. “We have no other option left. So we have decided to walk to our home district.”

On Sunday, the national transporter announced to gradually resume the train services with 15 pair AC trains equivalent to Rajdhani Express from New Delhi. According to railway officials, these trains in the initial phase will run as special AC trains from New Delhi Station to prominent locations across India.

While Ghanshyam and his friends start a long journey home, Bipin Maurya is preparing for one from Mumbai to Rajasthan. “Our savings are almost over, NGOs give us basic meals, but at times we have even slept hungry. We don’t know when all this (lockdown 3.0) will end. We have lost faith in the Modi government… so we have decided to walk to Rajasthan,” Maurya told IANS.

From March 25, thousands of migrants have been walking on the roads daily, from various points out of Mumbai and state borders to go to their home states – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Telangana, Karnataka – in different directions.

At the five Mumbai entry points of Dahisar, Airoli, Thane, Mulund and Vashi, hordes clutching their bare necessities in small bags or rucksacks, women carrying infants or with minor kids in tow, many without proper footwear, brave the scorching summer heat to turn their backs on the city of their livelihood.

Chances are Jitendra Singh, Jitendra Paswan, Sunil Kumar, Ghanshyam, or Bipin Maurya have never met each other or heard of each other. But as India fights the pandemic through a lockdown, they are connected teach other for the sheer hardship they ensure and become one of the million faces of the grim mosaic of the Indian migrant crisis.  (Agency)


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