Sandeep and Lal Bahadur, migrant labourers from Bettiah, Bihar, shared— “We couldn’t find a bus to Bihar from Kashmiri Gate. We didn’t even know that we won’t get a bus and we are now walking back to Gurgaon.”
This has been the state of migrant labourers across the country post lockdown. Several young boys such as Sandeep and Lal Bahadur who are hardly in the age group of 21-22 years, employed as quarry workers in a construction site and live in a rented room close to their work place. They went to the bus stand hoping to get back to their villages, but had to return as all forms of transportation had been suspended during the lockdown. This is just one of many cases of suffering when first phase of lockdown was announced at 4 hours’ notice.
It is really upsetting to learn that right from the start, the fight against COVID-19 has completely overlooked the poor section of the society. The fact that slums are practically not in the position to cope with the novel idea of social distancing was not taken into consideration.
Jagdish, Kalla Ram and Kamlesh also have similar stories, who are taking turns to peddle a rickshaw to reach their homes in Dilli Darwaza in Alwar, which is around 200 km from Delhi. On the onset of their journey, they were stopped by the police at Kapashera border. There were 1500 other migrants who were stuck at the check post trying to make their journey back to their villages.
They spent the night outside a showroom waiting to be allowed to continue their journey by the police personnel. The owner of the showroom was a gentle soul and invited them inside and offered them with food and water. Fortunately, the next day the team of police personnel manning the check post was replaced by a new team that was more sympathetic to the plight of the migrants who gave them the permission to pass through the check post.
The crisis has rendered the migrant workers jobless and they are resorting to just about any possible means to reach their native places. Unemployment has left them with no money to buy food and water, yet the government hasn’t made any provisions for them. The bus terminals within cities and state boundaries have become places of violent encounters between the migrants and the police, which is invariably resulting in the desperate migrants being beaten up by the police as they are being seen as violators of the lockdown rules.
It reflects on India’s brutally uneven development pattern, which is a sad state that we did not take into consideration the impact of lockdown on the migrant labourers and left them to suffer because of hunger, unemployment and violent treatment at the hands of the authorities.