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Coronavirus lockdown: Odisha migrants face a double whammy on journey back home

An Odisha-bound migrant labour family, coming from Chennai, reached Vijayawada on Tuesday after a seven-day-long journey. File.

An Odisha-bound migrant labour family, coming from Chennai, reached Vijayawada on Tuesday after a seven-day-long journey. File.   | Photo Credit: K.V.S. Giri

First they were in quarantine in Andhra Pradesh and then again in their village

The prospect of returning home amid the COVID-19 lockdown usually brings cheer to many migrants. But, for Rajendra Dhinda, a worker from Odisha’s Balasore district, the journey back was nothing short of a struggle.

Thanks to the double quarantine Mr. Dhinda and his co-migrants were subjected to, the homecoming keeps prolonging.

Also read: Coronavirus lockdown | Weary migrant workers lug crashed hopes en route their homes

First, the Andhra Pradesh government put them in a quarantine centre while they were travelling by road. They were again sent to quarantine in their village in Odisha from Tuesday.

It took Mr. Dhinda 26 days to reach Raminga, his village in Balasore, on a bicycle from a granite factory near Ongole in Andhra Pradesh where he worked. Now, he has to undergo 21 days of quarantine at the panchayat as COVID-19 protocol of Odisha does not allow him to directly step into his home.

Also read: Three migrant workers on way to Uttar Pradesh die on Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border

Mr. Dhinda started his journey from Ongole on April 16.

Around the same time, Manas Sahu, a hotel employee from Cuttack district, also set out for home from Kurnool. Propelled by the urge to reach home, Mr. Sahu and others had covered the first 300 km in three days. But, they could not evade the watchful eyes of the Rajahmundry city administration. They were sent to a quarantine centre on April 19.

“It was a double whammy for us. Despite pleading with the Rajahmundry administration that we would have to anyway undergo quarantine at our village, officials did not pay any heed to us,” said Mr. Dhinda at Bhubaneswar, 230 km still away from his home, on Monday.

After 17 days, on May 5 they were asked to go from the Rajahmundry centre. They reached their village, continuously pedalling for seven days.

Sudarshan Bal, who was also cycling back to home in Odisha’s Keonjhar district from Ongole, had a similar tale to tell. All met in the Andhra Pradesh quarantine centre.

‘Challenging journey’

“There could be more than 50 Odias we had come across in the Rajahmundry quarantine centre. Many were on bicycles and a good number of people had started walking back home. The fear of covering the 1,000 km-long distance did not deter us from undertaking such a challenging journey,” they said.

“As per our estimate, there could be around 3,000 Odias engaged in different granite factories near Ongole. The pandemic forced the factories to shut down their operation, leaving hundreds of workers jobless. Initially, owners had taken care of us well. As the lockdown was extended, the factory owners switched off their mobile phones,” said Mr. Bal.

After leaving Rajahmundry, the migrant workers split into smaller groups to avoid the risk of facing quarantine again.

Though the lockdown stress had undermined the COVID-19 fear among the migrants, panic held back the general public from extending help to those in distress.

It was tragic that many migrant workers had begged for water while walking back under the scorching heat. “People shut the door on us and refused to come close. We were treated like coronavirus bombs. It really hurts us,” said Mr. Dhinda.

When asked why people were not waiting for trains, service of which had resumed, they said inconsistencies in government promises had made people sceptic, forcing them to start their return journey on their own.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 2:59:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-lockdown-odisha-migrants-face-a-double-whammy-on-journey-back-home/article31563358.ece

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