Coronavirus lockdown | Stranded in various States, Odisha migrants call home for help

Foods stocks are depleting, they are unable to pay rent, and help is hard to come by

Updated - April 17, 2020 06:31 pm IST

Published - April 17, 2020 06:24 pm IST - Bhubaneswar

A group of migrant workers from Odisha sharing space in an 150-sq.ft room in Bengaluru.

A group of migrant workers from Odisha sharing space in an 150-sq.ft room in Bengaluru.

Packed into a 150 sq. ft. room in Bengaluru, Amulya Mallick, a plumber, along with nine others from Odisha, said they had been skipping dinner for the last five days in order to stretch their depleting food stocks. Back in Talapada village in Odisha’s Balasore district, his worried wife Saraswati has borrowed money twice from close relatives and transferred it to her husband’s account for his survival.

Also read | Migrant workers from Odisha stranded in Tamil Nadu, Kerala because of lockdown

Waiting for trains

In Tamil Nadu’s Tiruppur, Swapneswar Sai (28), along with his wife and 30-month-old son, is desperate to take the first train back to their village in Mayurbhanj. Their immediate concern is their inability to pay rent of ₹2,000 for holding on to safe accommodation. He has been frantically calling friends in Odisha to send money to his account. As many as 120 labourers from the Mayurbhanj district, who were employed in a garment manufacturing unit before the lockdown began, have a similar tale to share.

Also read | Odisha must work out safe return of migrants, say experts

In remote Murgani village in Odisha’s Balangir district, Swarnalata Luhar’s phone keeps ringing at regular intervals. Stranded at a construction site in Chembur in the badly-hit Mumbai city, her husband Ganesh Luhar calls to stay in in touch with family members. Mr. Luhar and 56 others from western Odisha have been steadily losing hopes of returning to their village. They had even begun the long walk back home before they were persuaded to stay back. Some kind-hearted Odia people transferred money to a grocer’s account, ensuring the supply of rations for them.

The extension of the lockdown to May 3 has left hundreds of migrant workers from Odisha stranded in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Goa, Bengaluru and Tiruppur anxious and desperate.

Supplies dry up

They receive offers of help over phone from anonymous callers. In fact, many have received rations. But after two or three instalments, the food supplies dry up. Back in Odisha, resource-scarce family members don’t know how to bring their loved ones back.

“I urge governments both in Karnataka and Odisha ensure safe return of my husband and his friends. Till they board trains, government must ensure they get two squares a meal,” pleaded Ms. Saraswati Mallick.

Also read | Odisha-based citizens’ groups demand coordinated migrants’ return

Scores of videos of migrant workers pleading to governments with folded hands are circulating in social media.

Saroj Barik, who has been coordinating the collective efforts of a virtual volunteers group, said, “Odia migrant workers have been frantically pleading for help. We have been trying to link them either with the Odisha government or to the local administration where they are stranded. As we cannot move, we keep prodding authorities with our phone calls. But beyond a point, everything comes to standstill.”

Kailash Biswal (46) and 180 other villagers from the Sankhemundi and Hinjilikatu blocks of the Ganjam district work in the Electronics Corporation of India Limited’s facility at Kushaiguda near Hyderabad. “Of the 180 workers, only 12 have received government rations and the condition of the rest is becoming precarious. Our immediate concern is to go back to our respective villages before we can resume work in Hyderabad,” Mr. Biswal said.

‘Psychologically weaker’

“The government must understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has made workers psychologically weaker. They have seen poverty from very close quarters. They need to be with their family at a time of unprecedented crisis,” he pointed out.

Also read | Migrants’ homecoming seen with suspicion in Odisha

Government data shows only 1.3 lakh Odia migrant workers are registered under the Inter-State Migrant Workers Act. In reality, over a million workers migrate from Odisha to other States for work annually.

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