Andhra Pradesh

Home is still a long walk away

Daily wage labourers walking to their hometowns, in Vijayawada on Saturday.

Daily wage labourers walking to their hometowns, in Vijayawada on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: V. RAJU

Haggard migrant workers rue ‘government apathy’ and ‘ill-treatment’ by police

“We have been walking for the last seven days. Nobody is offering us water to quench our thirst in the villages. We will reach our native places at any cost,” says Shalini, a migrant worker from Odisha.

With children in tow, one can see thousands of workers like her walking to their respective States on the national highways carrying huge luggage on their shoulders.

More than one lakh workers had come to Andhra Pradesh to work in the paddy, chilli, sugarcane, maize and other farms, aqua ponds, processing and packing units, spinning mills, brick kilns, granite companies, hotels, construction sites, cement companies, warehouses, and various industries.

The workers have been stranded in the State ever since imposition of lockdown by the Centre on March 23 to check the spread of COVID-19.

While the government provided accommodation to 76,000 workers in shelter homes, many others stayed put in the industrial units in which they were working.

But with the Centre extending the lockdown period in phases, the managements of a few industries had expressed their inability to provide food to the workers and asked them to leave the sites, forcing them to come on to the streets.

‘No water, food’

“We are not asking for any help. Please don’t halt our journey back home on foot,” the migrant workers told Chief Secretary Nilam Sawhney when she stopped on the highway and interacted with them on Friday.

“We never thought of facing such a trouble in life. There is no water and food, and many of us are running temperature and suffering from dehydration as we have been walking for more than 50-km daily. Instead of helping us reach out destinations, the police are treating us like criminals and beating us,” said Kunal, another migrant from Odisha.

“During the crisis period, the governments should be humane and extend help to the poor and the needy. But some policemen are behaving mercilessly,” bemoaned Shiva Yadav, a worker from Bihar.

‘Savings exhausted’

“We have spent our savings in the last 40 days and now our pockets are empty. How can we afford thousands of rupees towards train and bus charges? The government is arranging flights and special trains for the rich, but ignoring the workers,” observed Mr. Yadav, who started his walkathon in Chennai.

“Our children are crying for us in our native places. How can we concentrate on work now? We don’t want food and shelter in any State. Even if the police thrash us, we will reach our places and die there,” said Shoba, another migrant worker.

“Many pregnant women, aged persons and children have been walking for days during the lockdown. The government, instead of providing drinking water, food, and medical aid to the migrant workers on the national highways, has deployed police forces to beat us,” Ms. Shoba alleged, and blamed the Centre for the ill-treatment meted out to the workers.

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 7:44:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/home-is-still-a-long-walk-away/article31604190.ece

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