Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

Our families need us in this tough time, migrant workers say as they struggle to go home

Migrant workers stuck in the capital walking near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border near Ghazipur during complete lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus, in New Delhi on March 26, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

Babban Mahto’s wait to see his two-month-old girl for the first time only seems to be getting longer.

The 27-year-old from Bihar worked as a ‘beldar’ (daily wager) in Seelampur in Northeast Delhi until the lockdown hit businesses, rendering him and his co-workers jobless.

“I am the only one earning in the family. First, the riots in Northeast Delhi impacted business, and now the lockdown brought the people to their knees,” he says.

 

Babban says he was to take a train to home, in Siwan district, on May 2, which got cancelled.

On May 5, he and his co-workers from Bihar registered for free travel on ‘Shramik Special’ train. Two weeks later, they have no clue which train will take them home.

“We also registered on the link provided by the Delhi government two days ago. It says the application has been successfully submitted, but how do we know which train will take us home and when?” asks Jitendra Mahto, 35, who worked in a T-shirt printing unit.

“I have only ₹200 left with me. I have not even got the refund for the cancelled ticket. We don’t have agricultural land back home. I know it will be hard there, but I will be with my family. I am happy having ‘roti and chutney’ with them,” Jitendra says.

 

Salendra Kumar, 30, from Bihar’s Chapra district, says he just finished watching news about the Delhi government arranging 16 special trains on Tuesday to ferry migrant workers to their native states.

“We have been waiting here for our turn,” he says.

Kumar says he and his roommates, including Babban and Jitendra, left their rented accommodation at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

“We went to Jhandewalan Mandir, where police forced us to leave. Policemen wielding sticks ran after us when we tried taking rest near Ambedkar Stadium. From there, we went to Kamla Market only to be shooed away like dogs,” he says.

Policemen told the migrant workers to return to the places they had been putting up at, he says.

“They are heartless. They are treating us like we don’t belong to this country,” Kumar says, wrapping his handkerchief around his head to beat the heat.

“Our landlord didn’t throw us out. He said we can stay till the lockdown is lifted. But no one knows how much time it will take. Our families need us back home. I haven’t seen my newborn girl yet,” Babban says.

His wife is worried and called him four times already.

“We want to be in front of the eyes of our loved ones. Here, we are wandering on the roads in this heat. There is nothing to eat and nowhere to go.”

When a policeman asked the migrants not to sit on the roadside, they pleaded with him to take them in a shelter home.

“Please take us to a shelter home. We are ready to undergo medical checkups. Please sir ji,” Md. Parvez, another migrant worker, says, folding his hands before the policeman.

“(Prime Minister Narendra) Modi announced the lockdown abruptly and we got stuck here. I am not saying lockdown is not needed, but the government should have made some arrangements for us first,” the 28-year-old from Bihar’s Madhubani district says.

“Even the death row convicts are asked about their last wish,” Kumar cuts in.

“We followed the lockdown, no one among us is ill. The government deployed planes to bring people stuck overseas. People like us are walking home in the searing heat and dying,” he rues.

Parvez, who has had a banana and some biscuits since Monday night, says some of his acquaintances from the state set out on foot a few days ago, but were returned by “lathi-wielding” police.

Kahan jaye ab batao, sir? (Where do we go now)” he asks.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 3:54:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/our-families-need-us-in-this-tough-time-migrant-workers-say-as-they-struggle-to-go-home/article31623916.ece

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