Sonu Prajapati (22) has not seen his six-month-old son for more than four months now. He lost his wife two months ago, just when the lockdown began, and could not attend her funeral. As he left for Saharanpur aboard one of the 18 Haryana Roadways buses on Saturday, all he thought of was how he could reach home with empty pockets, and without a toy for his son.
In the first lot of buses that left Panchkula since the lockdown came into effect, taking migrant labourers who had registered online, as many as 450 labourers left for Saharanpur from Kalka.
Even though many including Sonu hailed from distant parts of Uttar Pradesh, they were happy they would at least be able to enter the boundaries of their home state.
“Once I reach Saharanpur, I think I will start walking to my village in Gorakhpur,” said Sonu, who has lived in Panchkula’s Pinjore for almost 12 years — more than half of his life.
Sonu had shifted to work as a furniture polisher when he was only 10 years old to help his father and earn some money to send to his family back home. He has since, along with his father Lal Chand Prajapati, worked at the same furniture store.
“Even though my family have given their all to the store, the owner denied to give us any money for April. He said he does not have any. He hasn’t even paid us for March. All our savings have been spent on food and lodging,” he said.
Lal Chand has decided to stay on in the city and wait for the money his employer owes them.
Aditya, Sonu’s infant son, is being cared for by his grandmother back in Gorakhpur. “I have not been able to see his face since I left four months ago. I did not own a smart phone then and now that I do, my mother does not have one. I could not even see my wife for the last time. The villagers performed her last rites,” said Sonu.
Even as he edges on to reach Saharanpur after facing long queues at check posts near Saharanpur late in the evening, his journey home has just begun. “Abhi to ghar bahut dur hai, na jaane kitne din lagenge (There is still a long way to go. I wonder how many days it will take for me to reach home),” he said.
Meanwhile, buses have finally started plying from Panchkula but only to border areas of Uttar Pradesh. Over 24,000 migrants have registered to go home, of which more than 15,000 hail from UP and more than 8,000 from Bihar. Only a thousand have yet received transport.
Many going home claimed that even though they had been working for factories and employers here for several years, they have been rendered jobless since the lockdown began. Swagana Devi was among them. “I had been working for a factory in Baddi for the past 22 years, but was fired once the lockdown began,” she said.
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