Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

Coronavirus | Similar stories, very personal tragedies

A bunch of people resting on their long walk home to their village, just off National Highway-8 towards Jaipur.

A bunch of people resting on their long walk home to their village, just off National Highway-8 towards Jaipur.

Their stories are similar, their tragedies their own. Hundreds of workers, some accompanied by children, are on the move in both directions on National Highway-8, which links New Delhi with Jaipur. They are headed home — to Sawai Madhopur, to Ayodhya, to Kannauj — and they are walking.

The busy national highway has been taken over by these “pedestrians”, some of them talking on their mobile phones as they walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes, undaunted by distance. Apart from the odd vehicle on the highway, there are only cows to be seen.

Thanks to the lockdown imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 on Tuesday, large sections of India are on the move. On foot.

“We started walking this morning from DLF Phase-II [in Gurugram] and we have to reach our village in Sawai Madhopur district. It’s about 550 km away,” Narsing Lal told The Hindu . “We are construction workers, there is nothing for us to eat or do.”

Sant Raj, who is walking towards Neemrana, said he had gone to Delhi for a job interview. Accompanying him is Rameshwar, a security guard, and Rajesh Singh, a lab technician.

“I am never going to vote again,” Singh said, a resigned expression on his face. "The government should have thought of something before they announced the lockdown in the country,” he said, a towel covering his face.

“What you are seeing now [pointing to the people on the Highway] in terms of numbers is nothing. At night, it’s a different scene, especially on the road from Faridabad. Thousands of people are going towards Bihar,” Rameshwar said.

At the main Manesar chowk, there are a bunch of men, women and children going to Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh. “No one thinks of us. They should have spared a thought for us,” Kiran, one of the people walking in the group, stated. “We have no choice but to go to our homes.”

A few kilometres ahead, a group of tired folks have stopped near a small pick-up vehicle, which is laden with bananas for distribution. It’s like a pit stop for the weary and hungry.

Making a U-turn from Manesar back to Gurugram and Delhi, the story is similar. A bunch of young men are busy picking up their small knapsacks, which contain their meagre belongings.

They have just been given food (and shade) by the kind staff at an Indian Oil Corporation petrol pump bang opposite the National Security Guard headquarters in Manesar. The men are headed towards Ayodhya as their roofing work in Bhiwadi, Rajasthan has wound up and there’s nothing to do there. No work.

“We don’t know what will happen now. This is the least we can do for them,” Ajay Singh, a burly security guard at the petrol pump, said, pointing to the young men he had just fed. Picking up their knapsacks, the men set off in the direction of Ayodha, not sure how long it will take them or when they will get their next meal.

In post-partition India, this is one long march home.

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Printable version | May 20, 2022 4:53:30 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-similar-stories-very-personal-tragedies/article61957179.ece