Migrant labourers in time of corona: Jobless, homeless and miles to go to return home

Some are finding their own villages in Bihar blocking their entry; a few had to make trees their temporary homes in West Bengal; hundreds left relief camps and hit the roads in Kerala in protest. And thousands of migrant workers are still walking on highways and railway tracks even at the risk of getting quarantined.
This COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a new crisis in India — of a mass exodus of migrant workers engulfing various parts of the country, including the national capital. Thousands of daily wagers and others having been rendered jobless and homeless due to a nationwide lockdown to check the spread of the deadly coronavirus appear determined to reach their home towns and villages.
One migrant worker died of heart attack after a long trek from the national capital on way to his hometown in Madhya Pradesh, while a large number of them were worried that they would die of hunger much before any disease.
Worried about this large-scale movement of people triggering a risk of mass infection, the central government ordered sealing of all state and district borders and said violators face a 14-day mandatory quarantine.
State governments also appealed to the migrant workers to stay put and announced special measures for providing food and other facilities to them, while a few arranged special buses to ferry them to their native places.
In Kerala, hundreds hit the streets on Sunday demanding transportation to travel to their native places. The state government deployed police forces and sent administrative officers to pacify the agitating migrant workers, who are called guest labourers in the state, and managed to send them back back to their camps.
They were promised all facilities for a comfortable stay in the state during the lockdown period, but their demand for travel facilities was rejected.
The Haryana government, on its part, said it has provided over 800 sanitised state roadways buses to Uttar Pradesh to ferry migrant workers stranded on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border to their villages.
On Saturday evening, chaos, confusion and a stampede-like situation prevailed at the Delhi-Ghaziabad border as hundreds of migrant workers fought amongst themselves to get seats on the limited number of buses the Uttar Pradesh administration operated to ferry them to the hinterlands.
Hundreds of migrant workers from Delhi, Haryana and even Punjab reached Anand Vihar, Ghazipur and Ghaziabad’s Lal Kuan area after taking arduous treks of many kilometers on foot to take buses to their respective native places Delhi as well as industrial towns in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab employ thousands of workers from states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
“We will die of hunger before any disease if we stay here. There is no one to even take care of our cremation,” said Savitri, who set on foot for her home in Uttar Pradesh’s Kannauj district.
Savitri (30), who lived in a slum in Rajouri Garden area, had no option but to undertake the arduous trek as the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic left her jobless and with no means to arrange food for her two small children.
“People are talking about the danger of some virus which can kill all of us. I don’t understand all these. As a mother, I am pained when I cannot feed my children. No one is there to help. All are equally worried about their lives,” Savitri told PTI as she walked along the Mathura Highway Road carrying her belongings on her head.
Some corporates also came forward with help with DLF Foundation announcing it has provided meals for nearly 25,000 migrant workers in Delhi and Noida in coordination with the district administration and other authorities.
Some NGOs and individuals have also pitched in with food and other essentials for migrant workers, while the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee said it is providing free food to around 50,000 people in the national capital daily amid the lockdown.
It appealed to everyone to donate grocery items and cash to help it to feed more migrant workers and daily wagers.
On the other hand, many of the migrant workers found after walking hundreds of kilometers to reach their villages in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh that they were not welcome there and were reported to police, who in turn, handed them over to medical authorities for tests and subsequent measures.
In Balarampur village in West Bengal’s Purulia district, villagers asked a group of labourers returning home from Chennai to make trees their home the self-quarantine period.
However, as social media got abuzz with their photos and videos, the local administration stepped in and shifted them to a quarantine facility.
In Maharashtra, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray assured that his government will take care of all migrant labourers and provide them basic necessities like food and water.
A large number of them have been marching on foot, while some tried to make their way out of the state in goods trucks and tempos, but were caught during police checking.
BJP’s National General Secretary (Organisation) B L Santhosh saw mischief in the large-scale exodus of migrant labourers’ in the national capital.
In a series of tweets, Santhosh wondered why there was no similar exodus in Bengaluru which is just 36 km away from Tamil Nadu border and Andhra Pradesh border with Tamil Nadu.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying tens of thousands of migrant labourers are undertaking arduous journey to reach their home states, thus increasing the risk of infecting their parents and the elderly population living in villages.
“This will result in a catastrophic loss of life,” he noted.
The Congress government in Punjab asked industries and commercial establishments not to terminate employees or deduct their wages, while similar appeals were made by the AAP government in Delhi and the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government, among others.
In Jammu and Kashmir also, Director General of Police Dilbag Singh said all those coming from outside Jammu and Kashmir are being quarantined,” he said.
Singh added that the police is also providing ration to the migrant labourers who have been rendered jobless due to the lockdown.
Though the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh governments have arranged buses to ferry those stranded, many have chosen to walk. The few buses which were arranged were crammed, with many people sitting atop them too.
The panicked workers are rushing to their native places even thought shelters are being set up for them in the national capital to stop the mass exodus.