Migrant labourers hunt for cycles to go home

With bus fares showing no signs of reducing, and train schedules uncertain, walking or cycling are only options

Published - May 07, 2020 12:41 am IST - Mumbai

Step by step:  A migrant family walking on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway near Ghodbandar junction on Tuesday evening to reach its home town.

Step by step: A migrant family walking on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway near Ghodbandar junction on Tuesday evening to reach its home town.

“With each passing day, the desperation to go home increases,” said Bamshankar Dewri, a labourer from Jharkhand, who lives with 10 others from his State in Kalyan.

For migrants like Mr. Dewri, the extension of the lockdown is only deepening the need to leave the city. With no income in recent weeks, uncertain train services and steeply priced bus options leave them little choice. There are just two options left: walk, or procure cycles to make the journey back home.

“We have barely been able to survive since the lockdown was announced. We have borrowed to make ends meet, but even that has its limit. A few people we know have already reached Jharkhand on cycles,” said Mr. Dewri.

On a cycle, he believes, he can reach home in 10 to 12 days. “We can cover around 100 km everyday by cycling in two shifts in the morning and evening. We were told that people along the way have helped with food. This is faster than walking home, which is the last resort,” he said.

Cycle shops are shut, but even those available in the black market were getting hard to find. “They were available in the interiors of Kalyan, but now even those places have shut,” he said.

Nearly 25 workers in Worli, who hail from Bihar, had contacted human rights activists asking for cycles. “This is a group we have been in touch with for the past one-and-a-half months to provide rations,” said activist Lara Jesani. “They were shattered when they were told by the local police station they would not be allowed to go and called us to ask for cycles, saying they might have to go on foot otherwise.” Hundreds had already started walking on highways, she said.

Bus operators have their own constraints and said fares could have reduced had the Centre passed on oil price cuts instead of raising taxes. “That would have helped more migrants take buses home,” said Harsh Kotak of the Mumbai Bus Malak Sanghatna. At least 115 buses had already left Mumbai for states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, and around 50 were scheduled to leave on Wednesday.

The lack of certainty and clarity on the running of trains is another reason migrants are looking for cycles.

Tulsi Yadav, who lives in Dharavi and is from Jharkhand, said trains were the only way to ensure the migrants could go back home, but they should run more frequently.

Till the authorities take cognisance of their struggle, the hard road may be the only way out.

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