M K Tayal:Even as the Government begins its biggest exercise to bring Indian from the world over, the situation inside the country is a sorry state of affairs. Even while the Central and state governments claims of providing train services to stranded migrant workers across India to travel to their home towns, a lot more is required as migrant workers continue to march long distances to reach the safety of their homes from their work places.
The central and state governments announced to provide trains and buses to ferry their stranded workers in different parts of the country. Under criticism of seeking payments from the migrant workers, the government claimed that no money was charged from workers even as contrary reports kept trickling in. In any case, while the governments undertook these much publicized relief measures, they are far too sketchy and inadequate. Migrant workers in many states including Punjab (Rajasthan and even other parts of the country) are being force to walk back home.
“The government announced that they will provide trains. We are hopeful that we will get a train to go back to Uttar Pradesh. But after three days of waiting, we decided to start the journey on foot,” says Roshan Kumar, a carpenter, while leaving Chandigarh to walk more than a 1000 kilometer to his hometown, Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.
“We checked online and also went to the railway station, but there was no plan to start any train service from Chandigarh to various parts of the country. They ran a service from Jullandhar, I saw news on mobile,” added Sunil Kumar, holding on to his life belongings tucked in a bag.
Roshan and Sunil and two to others, Pintu and Niranjan, were working at a furniture shop in Sector 45. Roshan was planning to get his wife and a kid from Gorakhpur to Chandigarh but all plans were put on hold due to the unplanned and abrupt lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a dramatic fashion March, first imposing Janata curfew followed by two phases of lockdown till May 3. In the third phase, lockdown was extended till May 17 with some relief in Green and orange zones which the government demarcated after evaluating the intensity of the virus.
“We were left with no option. How long could we stay in Chandigarh and keep paying rent and without a job,” remarked Pintu. “We were planning to go back anyway but decided to see what the government provides. Our showroom owner told us that he will not be able to take us on (humare dukan wale ne bol diya ki woh nahi rakhega hume), said Sunil Kumar, who used to draw Rs 12,000 per month.
They were staying in a low income rented accommodation in Sector 45 in Chandigarh. With a modest living they were able to send some money back home also. But all that came to an abrupt halt. Hoping to be able to complete their journey in seven to eight days time, they knew of the difficulties ahead. “No one listens to the poor. They got rich from China and Amrika (USA) and for us, they cant even give us trains, Roshan added.
Local transport is conspicuous by its absence
But not all migrant workers decided to leave. Abrar, 24, and his help, Chotu, decided to stay in Chandigarh itself. Abrar is a mason by profession but now he undertakes false ceiling work. He got a call from a big builder in Punjab’s Mohali district to report for work on Thursday. The government has allowed movement of workers based on their I-cards but Abrar did not possess an I-card. In addition, intra-city buses and autos have not been permitted. “So we decided to walk 10 kilometers. After all we got some work. We just slipped past the barrier,” Abrar said, a kilometer short of his work destination.
Uprooted from their flyover home. But all are not as lucky. Bano and Kalu, causal labourers, picking up sundry work, were ‘uprooted’ from their home during the lockdown. As the cops became extra tough during the lockdown, they were kicked from beneath the Zirakpur flyover accommodation. So they packed their stuff and moved a kilometer south, away from the prying eyes of the police. As Bano was preparing to light a fire, she was in no mood to talk. “Please leave us alone. If they see us talking to anyone, we may not be able to sit here also,” she said. Kalu said he was helping out in whatever manner he could.
But not on the causal workers, rag pickers too were out of jobs. Bindy, a grandmother, while begging for ration, said, “Hume bhi kuch nahi mila. Ab ek mahine se hum bheek mang rahe hai (we used to sell plastic bottles etc but for us also there was no work. We have been begging for a month).”
But as the political class awakens to the miseries being faced by not on the poor, casual and migrant workers, there is talk of opening up more of the country and better coordination in fighting the corona virus.