Uncertain of future, migrants continue 1800-km cycle ride from Vijayawada to Gorakhpur

A race across States: Migrant labourers, bound for Uttar Pradesh, crossing Bhubaneswar on Monday.  

Lal Dev became a father around the time the nation went into lockdown to curb the COVID-19 outbreak. Two months later, he faces a daunting 1,000-km ride on a bicycle before he can hold his newborn son.

He has already pedalled 750 km of the 1,800-odd km from Vijaywada in coastal Andhra Pradesh to his home in Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

With him on the long journey home is Hari Lal, also the father of three-month-old baby girl.

Mr. Dev, Mr. Lal and two other men from U.P. had been engaged by a Hyderabad-based outsourcing company. Just before the lockdown was announced, they were sent to Vijaywada on an assignment. The four had ₹40,000 then, of which they already spent ₹10,000 on food over the past two months. “We cannot die before holding our babies in our arms. We managed with the little rations till now and could not stretch it further. Despite our formal registration with the U.P. government, no concrete assurance was communicated to us [on arrangements to travel back],” said Mr. Dev.

Bought new cycles

Unable to bear the uncertainty, the group set out six days ago. Investing the last of their savings in four new bicycles at ₹5,000 each, the four charted their route from Vijayawada to Visakhapatnam, on to Bhubaneswar, Jamshedpur and finally Gorakhpur. The Hindu met them as they took a break at Bhubaneshwar on Monday.

Luck favoured them in the first stage of the journey as three truckers gave them a lift for around 250 km. They have completed another 500 km on the cycles. “We hope to meet some more kind-hearted truckers for the remaining 1,000 km journey,” said Mr. Lal.

But even as some volunteers organised food for them in the State capital, they faced hostility from locals given the stigma attached to outsiders due to the virus outbreak, forcing them to set off immediately for Jamshedpur.

“Hunger and uncertainty are forcing people to take drastic steps. I have seen at least 25 groups either cycling or walking along NH-16 in the past one week,” said Kalyan Anand, a volunteer, who has been arranging food and some transport for such groups.

Mr. Dev and his three friends were worried that they might be put in a quarantine centre as the Centre has asked States not to let anyone walk on the road or railway tracks.

However, with getting a ticket home on the few Shramik Special trains posing quite a challenge and continued uncertainty on the work front, hundreds of desperate migrant workers continue to undertake long and perilous journeys home.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 9:04:26 PM |

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