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Travails of the migrants

On the platform, with numerous bags and water bottles in their hands, they wait patiently in front of the coach

They enter sheepishly, being asked to show their papers several times in the long rows. They look exhausted probably from long journeys in the suburbs in humid summer and long waits in endless rows at every entry point. They sceptically approach every checkpoint as if it existed only to deny them. Some hover around bends of the queues, with no proper document, I suppose. They beg the police to let them board the train, futilely, of course. But the police keep them away. Finally, the administration has succeeded in keeping many of them out of railway stations.

On the platform, with numerous bags and water bottles in their hands, they wait patiently in front of the allotted coach. Some are even carrying an LED TV set. I enquired about this piece of luggage with my colleague who answered they might have vacated their dwellings. I ask myself whether they will come back. Probably not, my heart shivers. I try hard to keep the images of tormented guest workers walking on highways out of my imagination. Still, I tear up. Determined, I try to focus on the present.

They get chided as they walk for not keeping adequate distance between them and are asked to go only to their allotted coaches. The police and authorities keep their distances with masks and gloves in place. Queues move slowly, collecting the food parcel and water bottles arranged by the State government. A loudspeaker is placed to regularly announce the precautions to be taken in English and broken Hindi. In their eagerness, they barely pay any attention to it and despite being asked to sit when the coach doors open, almost out of habit they jump up squeezing the next passenger up in the queue as if their seat will be occupied unless they pounce upon it.

Once seated, they breathe a sigh of relief. But still they are restless, washing their faces after a long hot and humid day and sometimes filling bottles of water from platform taps. As the train engine whistles, the sounds of euphoria reverberates throughout like those of a bunch of schoolchildren on a picnic bus. They wave hands, scream and fraternise in their compartments. The excitement, the relief of finally going home electrifies the environment of an otherwise desolate heavily barricaded railway station. The same staff and officers who reprimanded them to be in queues while sternly handing over food and water bottles with mechanical efficiency wave them goodbye with tears in their eyes and smiles under their masks. I am aware these trains are not enough, there are lakhs waiting to go home and an unfortunate few we lost on tracks and highways. Yes, these Shramik Special trains should have been operated earlier, but transportation was delayed.

aditisaini2008@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jul 2, 2020 10:14:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/travails-of-the-migrants/article31933295.ece

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