An unending journey for the migrants

Those who reached Bihar after walking for days are confined to quarantine facilities in Patna

Published - March 30, 2020 11:22 pm IST - PATNA

 Balmiki Kumar, a migrant worker in Patna.

Balmiki Kumar, a migrant worker in Patna.

At 11 a.m. on Monday, 15-year-old Balmiki Kumar is sitting on a wooden bench under a tree on the campus of the Patna High School in the Gardanibagh locality.

His tattered black backpack is bloated with things he packed for the journey. He is unwilling to go inside the vacant rooms of the school to rest. “I want to go to my home in Sitamarhi district as soon as possible and be with my family,” he says. He wants to say more, but is exhausted after his long journey of over 1,000 km from Delhi’s Noida.

For the last five months Balmiki was staying in Sector-12, Noida, where his elder brother Rakesh Kumar works as a tailor. Both the brothers were living in a room they rented for ₹2,000 a month and were earning around ₹15,000 on an average. Their father, Hari Kishore Mahto, is a marginal farmer in Dhanushi village in Sitamarhi district of Bihar. Their youngest brother, Rishi Kumar, stays with father at the village.

When Balmiki, a school dropout, saw people leaving for their home States in hordes in the third week of March, he didn’t understand what was happening. “I didn’t realise the gravity of the situation even when my elder brother told me an unknown virus is killing people and everything is going to be shut soon. I chose to stay back while my brother left with the others,” he says.

Asked to vacate room

When his landlord asked him to vacate the room and it became increasingly difficult to get food, he too decided to leave. “I stuffed some clothes and packed flattened rice and some snacks in my bag and set off on my journey on March 25 with only with ₹1,000 in my pocket,” he says. “I survived on water and the flattened rice for five days.”

How did he find his way on the road? “Using GPS on my mobile,” he says, pulling out a big-screen phone from his pocket. “What option did I have? I walked all day and through the night, only resting briefly by the roadside,” Balmiki says, holding up his worn-out rubber slippers.

When he crossed the Uttar Pradesh border at Kaimur and reached Danapur near Patna early on March 30, the district officials took him to the Patna High School campus — one of the four places in the city where arrangements have been made for food and shelter for migrants.

Robbed on train

K. Raju, 50, was not so lucky. Resting in a corner classroom on the first floor of the school, he says all his belongings, including mobile phone and Aadhaar card, were stolen on the train. “Now I am an identity-less Indian,” he says. He is from Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh and worked in a hotel in Secunderabad in Telangana. “When the lockdown was declared, everyone was leaving for their homes. I too boarded a train but it brought me to Danapur station near Patna on March 28. From there, some officials dropped me here at the school and now I have no money, no phone, nothing at all to go anywhere or connect with anyone,” he says.

Mr. Raju has an elder brother who is stuck in Mumbai. Clad in a lungi and a half-sleeve shirt, his only belongings are a polythene bag and a towel.

Most of the school’s 30 rooms the district administration has taken under its control are empty. Some local social activists are helping with the food. “Hardly five-six people are staying here. Most of them have left for their villages,” says social activist Raj Shekhar Gupta. A policeman is stationed on the campus and an official maintains a logbook. A large room is cluttered with cooking gas cylinders, beds and cots. Under a tent in one corner, food is being served. “Most of those in the queue are poor people from nearby areas. How can we deny food to anyone in such difficult times,” says Mr. Gupta. Bihar, so far, has had one COVID-19 death and 15 positive cases.

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