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Coronavirus lockdown | For these migrants, Partition plays out on their never-ending journey back home

Arduous journey: Migrant workers headed towards Uttar Pradesh huddled up in a truck on Saturday.

Arduous journey: Migrant workers headed towards Uttar Pradesh huddled up in a truck on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui

Borders are created within the country, people are moving like cattle, says a worker on his way home

Crossing three States, mostly plodding in the furious heat 13 days on, Vikramjeet Verma believes the longest journey of his life, to get back home, is more about never returning to Ahmedabad, some 1,300km away.

With every step on the highway, hauling feet heavy with crushed dreams, his resolve only fortifies: “Ab kabhi vaapis nahi jana hai udhar [I don’t have to go there ever again].”

On Saturday, he reached the Madhya Pradesh-Uttar Pradesh border along with two friends. “This whole period feels like Gadar is playing out,” quipped Mr. Verma, 21, a carpenter who made ₹400 a day, referring to the film set in the 1947 Partition. “Borders are created within the country; people are moving like cattle; there are checkpoints everywhere. And all is uncertain now, like at the time of Independence.”

Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

For eight days at least, they reached the Ahmedabad railway station every morning. “We stood in the queue to board a train,” said his friend Ajay Verma. As the lockdown kicked in — and has continued since — hunger and draining cash has felt like a curse for leaving home. And the government’s tardy response to their plea for returning home sapped all security. Now, only home, its warm embrace, could lend them succour. So they set out towards Gonda district of Uttar Pradesh. “We will work as agricultural labourers for ₹250 a day,” he said.

3.62 lakh migrant workers arrive in Rajasthan

With Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh finally agreeing to set aside differences over the passage of returning workers, an overwhelming wave has struck the Johariya border in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh, the busiest border point Uttar Pradesh is scrambling to manage. Around 50,000 workers returning from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra are crossing over every day, said Rahul Srivastav, Additional Superintendent of Police (City), Jhansi, overseeing arrangements at the border.

Migrant exodus chokes Maharashtra-M.P. border

Faced with the uncertainty caused by the lockdown, workers are making a desperate attempt to return home, packed inside lorries, riding two-wheelers, perched atop goods trucks and huddled up in buses.

Around 100 government-run buses from Madhya Pradesh’s Bijasan border with Maharashtra are arriving at Johariya every day, from where workers are sent by the Uttar Pradesh government buses onward. Those on bicycles are loaded in trucks.

Coronavirus | 29 deaths, 364 cases in Gujarat

At the checkpoint of Madhya Pradesh, an official from the Education Department, requesting anonymity, said, “Given the volume of traffic, it’s difficult to check for documents from each of them. So we are letting everyone pass. We have to ensure they reach home first.”

Six car mechanics in Pune are riding on motorcycles arranged by their contractor.

“You don’t know who’s carrying the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in a truck when people are forced to travel like sheep and goats. Then, they may take it to their villages. Why can’t the government run all trains when the damage is already done,” wondered Tanveer Ansari, 34, lying supine in an abandoned dhaba.

Adjusting a spare tyre around the handles of his motorcycle, Amin Ahmed, 22, the youngest in the group, points to a mini-bicycle strapped to its rear.

“That belongs to my nephew, who is six. He went along with my sister in a truck to Kanpur. He cried a lot, saying he wouldn’t go anywhere without the bicycle,” said Mr. Ahmed, listing the essentials he carried. “We have left behind utensils and the LPG cylinder, and will return next year.”

For those riding auto-rickshaws from Mumbai and Surat and two wheelers, the searing heat along highways in the arid Gwalior-Chambal region became unbearable on Friday afternoon. Workers slumped in almost any patch of shade around trees, under flyovers, and next to bushes lining medians.

A group of 50 villagers from Mamoni Khurd in Shivpuri district, clutching red flags, took a break under the shade of shuttered shops along the highway on their 100-km pilgrimage to the temple of a local deity.

“I have been told by the Ratangarh Mata to bring all villagers to her abode so that the lockdown won’t affect us,” said Mallu Adivasi, who claimed she experiences the spirit, as trucks loaded with migrant workers whizzed past.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 11:37:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-lockdown-for-these-migrants-partition-plays-out-on-their-never-ending-journey-back-home/article31603552.ece

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