Clad in an unbuttoned yellow shirt, a pair of torn jeans and his mother’s chappals, eight-year-old Tejpal Bhabhor now meets his parents only for meals. At other times, he is seen cycling around even as his family counts the days to be back home from a shelter home in Garbada taluka of Dahod. “My friends had a cycle, but I never got a chance to ride one. This is my first ride!” says an elated Tejpal. “We had nothing to play with earlier, it is much better now.”
On a regular day, the sprawling campus of Gangarada residential school would be bustling with the clamour of its students. For the last 22 days, the school has been home to 63 migrant labourers, a few from as far as 40 kilometres away from their native villages in Jhabua of Madhya Pradesh. In view of the nationwide lockdown being extended, the Dahod district administration has been adopting measures to keep the migrants stress-free and make their stay at shelter homes more conducive.
Tejpal, his sister and parents and sister had started from Surat on foot but were stopped near a bridge and brought to the shelter home after the Centre issued directives on March 31 to seal state borders, prohibiting any kind of movement. For the children lodged at shelter homes in Dahod, the administration has been actively inviting donations of toys and outdoor games. The kids now have a cycle, two bats and a ball, a carrom board and other smaller toys to play with.
For the adults, provisions have been made for yoga and bhajan sessions, apart from outdoor games and gardening. 25-year-old Ashish Tiwari says. “There are beautiful rose plants, a papaya plant and a mango tree. Every morning along with five others, I spend some time in the garden and water the plants. The papaya plant has started bearing fruits, but they are still raw.”
A native of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh said he had started walking from Surat with his brother and five-months-pregnant sister-in-law before they were brought to the shelter home in Limkheda, which houses around 93 people native to UP and BIhar. While they spend their days listening to music and talking to their families back home, they look forward to dusk as they get together for a game of volleyball or cricket. “We do not face any issues here, we are happy with the food and other facilities, but how can we stop thinking about going back home?” the Jaunpur-based man says.
“We have around 643 migrant labourers at seven shelters here in Dahod, most of whom are aggressive to return home. It’s on us to ensure that they feel less homesick and tempted to go back home. So, we thought that we would engage them in activities like gardening, outdoor sports, while following all protocols of social distancing,” said Dahod Collector Vijay Kharadi.
The shelters are also closely monitored by health and police officials. Everyday, a team of health officials conducts a primary screening of the migrant labourers. Women lodged at the shelters have been provided with sanitary napkins by the police department. The shelters also have their kitchens within the premises, providing a three-course meal including fruits once a day.
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