Coronavirus lockdown | Despair packs migrant workers from U.P. into a concrete mixer truck

Ride ends in Indore for the 18 men from Uttar Pradesh.

Updated - May 02, 2020 11:57 pm IST

Published - May 02, 2020 10:39 pm IST - Bhopal

A man disembarks from a concrete mixer truck in Indore on May 2, 2020. Photo: Special Arrangement

A man disembarks from a concrete mixer truck in Indore on May 2, 2020. Photo: Special Arrangement

Desperate to get back to their homes, four drivers took turns crawling into the steel drum of a concrete mixer truck as they set out on a 1,380 km bumpy ride back home in Uttar Pradesh. They left Mumbai on International Workers’ Day on May 1, after battling hunger and with virtually no money after being denied wages for three months.

“The heat inside was more bearable than the hunger,” said Manoj Yadav. On the way, they picked up 14 others trudging back home. While most of the others planned to get a ride to their native Gorakhpur district, Mr. Yadav hoped to disembark in Lucknow and walk to his home in Prayagraj, 200 km away.

Full coverage | Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

On the outskirts of Indore, a policeman caught sight of a head popping out from an opening in the side of the truck’s drum. “We have taken them to a quarantine centre, where they have been screened and given food,” said Sunil Yadav, in-charge of the Sanwer police station. The police have booked the truck’s driver, for disobeying the lockdown.

The four drivers, who attempted to ride back in the mixer truck, had given up hope of the lockdown ever being lifted. “They said it would be lifted on April 14, but it has not ended. We couldn’t wait for something that was never going to end,” he added.

On May 1, with the truck’s fuel tank filled to the brim, one of the drivers stealthily drove it out to the highway in Mumbai, where his three co-workers at the concrete-mixing firm waited.

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“We planned to hand over the truck to the police in Lucknow,” said Mr. Yadav. “We just somehow wanted to get back home,” added the sole breadwinner of his family of seven.

For the last 12 days, they had survived on biscuits. Sometimes, the local panchayat would give them lunch. “I had spent the last penny a month ago,” Mr. Yadav added. His family owns sparse patches of agricultural land, enough to sustain them.

“We just want our salary,” said Mr. Yadav. His wife was to be operated upon for appendicitis, for which he needed at least twice as much as his monthly salary of ₹22,000. “I do not know why our salary was withheld.”

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Having left Mumbai at 5 p.m., they had made good time to Indore as they had not been stopped at any check posts. “There was enough space for everyone inside the mixer to sleep,” said Mr. Yadav. “There was no problem breathing,” he added.

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