Usmaan, 18, has been at a shelter home in Panchkula’s Sector 20 since March 30, the day his mother passed away in Saharanpur. While he could not see her one last time, and even missed the 10-day mourning period, all he wanted to be with his family at this time. As his quarantine period got over on April 11, he felt hope. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement extending the lockdown to May 3 changed all that.
The extension prompted several migrant labourers who had hoped of reuniting with their families to go on hunger strike at the government school turned shelter home, housing around 60 of them.
Usmaan had set out on foot in the last week of March. “I thought I would be let go April 11, the day my quarantine period would have ended, but they did not. My family needs me, I want to go home. I know I am being fed here and taken care of, but it is not enough. They are not saying anything about when they will let us go. Everybody wants to leave. When we heard the announcement we got so scared, we didn’t say anything or conspire. We just did not feel like eating after what we had heard,” he said. Within minutes, the station house officer of Sector 20 police station, the ACP, the SDM along with health officials reached the shelter home.
“We have made them understand that they must eat. There are no issues there now,” said SHO Inspector Dalip Singh.
While shelter homes across the country are packed with labourers, those in Panchkula, which have a capacity to house at least 1,000 persons, but they only have 400. Each shelter house has also been given a television set for them to watch serials and news along with counselors visiting them each day. Milk and essentials are being provided to the homes which house women and children.
“Milk packets and toys are being supplied to shelter homes where children reside.
Interactive sessions are taking place at each shelter home to keep the residents occupied,” said a statement issued by the administration.
But despite it all, these migrant labourers want just one thing — to go home. “We are being given every facility here that we can think of. But my children are hungry. They cry over phone calls. We did not feel like eating today as we were told we will be let out today. But the police threatened to put us in jail if we don’t eat. So we had to,” said 40-year-old Naushad, who was working in Una when the shutdown began and was on his way to a village of Narayangarh when he was picked up by Panchkula police.
“I am ready to walk the rest of the way again even in this heat. I just want to go home anyhow and right away. I don’t want my family to die without me. Even as government claims to give out food, no rations are reaching them. No luxuries comfort me here. Hum khaane ko khaa rahe hain ya khaana hume khaa raha hai,” he said, tears in his eyes.
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