Migrant workers | Maharashtra train accident victims were battling hunger

The previous night, they had called up relatives in Madhya Pradesh to say they were in a helpless state

Updated - June 11, 2020 02:57 pm IST

Published - May 08, 2020 11:09 pm IST - Bhopal

Shahdol district officials interact with family members of those run over by a train in Maharashtra.

Shahdol district officials interact with family members of those run over by a train in Maharashtra.

“Please send us some money. We don’t have anything left. Even the contractor is refusing to pay us. What should we do? We will die of hunger and thirst,” were the last words Krishnawati Singh recalled from her husband’s phone conversation at 9 p.m. on Thursday, as he dispiritedly trudged along railway tracks in Maharashtra hoping to reach his village home, some 800 km away.

Back home in Maman village of Madhya Pradesh’s Umaria district, landless and without even a head of cattle to sell or borrow money on, Ms. Singh was helpless. “He stepped out in the first place as we barely had anything to eat here; how could we send him anything,” asked a disconsolate Ms. Singh, her voice barely audible over the phone line as she fought to stifle sobs of despair.

At 5.15 a.m. on Friday, a freight train ran over Ms. Singh’s husband, who along with three villagers from Maman and several others of Shahdol district, was sleeping on tracks. The group from M.P. had been overcome by exhaustion after having walked along the tracks for kilometre after endless kilometre after having set off from Jalna. With days left to walk, they had likely hoped to resume their weary march after daybreak.

At another house in the village, Devwati Singh said she had managed to send her husband ₹1,000 from savings, to facilitate his return. “I had told him to come back when the trains resumed. But he didn’t listen,” she said, her voice trailing off.

Also read: Opposition slams Centre for Aurangabad migrant workers deaths

Not paid for two months at a steel factory in Jalna district, the men had approached their contractor for a bus to help them return home, she said. “But the contractor disappeared after that,” recounted Ms. Devwati.

Now, only Arjun Singh, her brother-in-law, can support the family of two. “At present, we are surviving on 15 kg rice procured through ration shops,” said Mr. Arjun, 23.

Pointing out that poverty and lack of local jobs drove the villagers away to hunt for work, Bhagwati Singh, the sarpanch, said, “They also don’t get much work under MGNREGA here”.

At Antoli in Shahdol district, Rajkumar Singh said he had lost six cousins in the incident — three of them married, with the youngest only 23. “There are no employment opportunities here. And my family can live off our five acres of farms for only three-four months,” he said. He had last heard from his cousins on Thursday.

“They didn’t know about registration for train services. They planned to walk at least until the Madhya Pradesh border, from where they hoped to hitch-hike for the rest of the way,” Mr. Rajkumar said.

Most of the deceased belonged to the Gond tribal community, and members of their families had begun looking for job opportunities outside the area only in the last three to four years.

“The MGNREGA is continuously becoming weaker,” said Rakesh Kumar Malviya of Vikas Samvad, a non profit. “Except for last year, there has been less than normal rainfall in the region. That’s why new pockets of migration are being created,” Mr. Malviya added.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.