Other States

A long walk home for 30,000 tribal workers in M.P.

Trudging tens of miles, switching transport four times and halting for nights at three cities, Lakhan Adivasi made it home in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh on Thursday morning.

“It was the longest ride back. We didn’t have much to eat, but we had to return to the safety of our home somehow,” says Mr. Lakhan, a construction worker who travelled 450 km from Rajkot in Gujarat, along with his wife and two teenage daughters.

Left without work after the lockdown was imposed nationwide to contain COVID-19, 30,000 tribal labourers from Jhabua have returned from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Another 30,000 from the district are left stranded in these States.

With transport suspended, shops shuttered and food supply halted, some families hired pick-up trucks, while others hailed jeeps. But scores lumbered their way back to western Madhya Pradesh, carrying luggage, water cans and infants.

As he reached the Pitol entry point, health officials screened him and gave him food. They huddled families, including his, into a bus for a journey back to his village. On a microphone, an official advised each of them to stay indoors and maintain distance from one another.

“The spell of labourers returning is going to continue for two-three more days. Until now, labourers thought the movement was restricted,” says Abhay Singh Kharari, Sub Divisional Magistrate.

Another 5,000-7,000 labourers bound for Vidisha and Ujjain, and as far as Morena and Gwalior districts, 630 km away, crossed Jhabua through the Lambela and Kanjawani entry points from Gujarat, he adds.

Handy list

Mr. Kharari says that during the Assembly byelection and Lok Sabha election last year, the administration appealed to migrant labourers to return to vote. “That list is coming in handy now. We have requested the Collectors in Gujarat to make them stay there and provide food and medical aid, yet they are returning.”

Over 5,000 labourers from Rajasthan and Gujarat had returned to the neighbouring Alirajpur district, mostly in hired pick-up trucks, while another 200 had crossed it, says S.C. Verma, Upper Collector, Alirajpur. “Luckily, many had returned in February for Bhagoria haat, a tribal festival. Otherwise, many others would have been left stranded.”

Ruchika Chouhan, Collector of Ratlam district, says that for those travelling to other districts, a barrier-free movement has been ensured. So far, 250 of the labourers from the district have returned. “Panchayat officials inform us whenever a new member enters villages. Accredited Social Health Activists and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives screen them for symptoms,” she explains.

Earlier, they migrated intra-State for agricultural labour, but mechanisation forced them to take up construction work in other States. “Labour from Madhya Pradesh is comparatively cheap. After they return, they may find work locally with the ongoing harvest season. But the little subsistence farming they did is hit by the untimely rain,” she says.

Labourers are returning despite assurances by the local administrations of food and shelter, she says, because there is a sense of security back home. “Neighbours can support with food and finances. And women and children usually stay back, while men and teenagers go out for work. The family being together can help them tide over times like this.”

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 10:19:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/a-long-walk-home-for-30000-tribal-workers-in-mp/article31186087.ece

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