Since the lockdown, The Indian Express has spoken to countless migrant workers in Delhi-NCR as they walked or cycled back to their homes in other states. Some stopped to rest by the roadside in the dead of the night, while others waited their turn to take the Shramik Special trains at railway stations. Weeks later, The Indian Express returned to their stories. The men and women talk of starting afresh, and the pertinent question — city or village?
‘Will open a salon in village, will never return to city’
On May 16, Prem Thakur (39), who worked at a salon in Noida, vowed to never return to Delhi-NCR as he boarded a Shramik Special train to Bihar’s Aurangabad. Back home, Thakur is steadfast about the decision: “I have decided to start afresh. I have worked at a salon in Noida and have the skills; I will start my own salon near my house in Amona village.”
Along with his five siblings, Thakur is building a house in the village, and the family has decided to never move to Delhi or Noida. “If I go to Delhi or Noida, it will only be to buy machines for my salon The plan is set, and after a payment of Rs 1 lakh to buy a room in the market, I will buy hair straightening machines, smoothening machines and chairs. I will take a loan… Don’t want to rely on others again,” said Thakur.
Sports factory worker, his family in two minds
Pinki Devi (29) recalled how she had only 24 hours to pack up her belongings at her Noida home before boarding a train to Bihar’s Aurangabad in May. Now that she is home, Devi has no plans of going back to Noida — not even to pick up the things she left behind in a hurry. Her husband Sarvant Kumar (32), however, is in a dilemma and wants to return to the factory in Noida where he worked.
“My three children are happier here with their grandparents, they have space to play. We have started rebuilding our house. We will sustain ourselves with farming,” she said. While Kumar is trying to convince her, Devi has put her foot down: “He will look for a government job in the village. If we go back to the city, we stand to lose everything again.”
Abandoned in Delhi, 20-year-old refuses to return
Memories of the lockdown have scarred Vivek Mishra (20), who worked at a restaurant in Karol Bagh till a few months ago. “Seeing how badly we were treated, just abandoned when we needed the city most… I am never going back,” he said over the phone from his house in UP’s Gonda.
Recalling the nervous wait for his turn to board a train in May, he said, “I waited two additional days for a train to Gonda after I reached a school in East Delhi on May 20 for screening. The train went to Lucknow, and from there we were taken by bus to Gonda.”
When the 20-year-old reached Salpur village in Gonda, he wasn’t allowed in by the residents who insisted he undergo a two-week quarantine. “They told me to quarantine at a shop, which belongs to my family, where I stayed for 15 days. My family living in the village sent me food daily and used to drop it at a distance. We are farmers, we can sustain ourselves,” he said.