Even as reopening of some factories, shops and companies becomes possible with partial lifting of the lockdown, contractual workers and labourers in Delhi, who spent over a month without job, pay and in many cases food, say they would rather head home than rejoin work.
Complaining about how the lockdown period had turned them into “beggars”, many labourers The Indian Express spoke to said they are waiting for trains to start leaving from Delhi. Mohammed Jamal (30), who worked at a pressure cooker manufacturing unit, is currently putting up at a school in Sarai Kale Khan along with other workers from UP and Bihar. He earned around Rs 8,000 per month before the lockdown. He said his employer, the government and the society at large had let him down.
“I called the maalik hundreds of times. He didn’t take my call. The government gives food packets but these are small polybags, filled with stale rice and dal. I have lived in Delhi for over 10 years but not a single neighbour or friend came to help me. I don’t even have the money to buy wheat and rice. I want to go back to my family in Bihar. My wife scolds me; she doesn’t want me to suffer anymore.”
With easing of restrictions in the capital, many migrants got calls from employers offering them their old jobs back — but not everyone was keen to take up the offer. Jamal was one of them.
At Yamuna Sports Complex, too, most migrant workers are waiting for the much talked about trains.
Satish Kumar, a construction worker, said, “ My uncle and I have worked in Delhi for five years; we came here after my father fell sick. Now, we have no place to live and no money for food. The employers now expect us to work for a month and get wages later. I think farming in my village isn’t a bad option; it’s better to struggle with your family… I don’t trust the government and its lockdown. They might extend it till July. I tried to go back to UP but the police caught us and sent us here. We will wait but won’t work.”
Kumar hails from Bahraich in UP, and would earn Rs 5,000 before the lockdown.
Over the past month, more than 400 daily wage migrant workers have been caught by police while trying to leave the capital. A Delhi Police spokesperson said they are finalising the modalities of how the men can be sent back home, and also helping them with food and ration.
Apart from anger with employers, many workers also cited coronavirus being more widespread in Delhi than back home. At Radha Soami Satsang, Ajit Mishra, a security guard, said, “ I worked for a small restaurant in Connaught Place and earned around Rs 7,000 per month, but I have no job now. I saw the news a week back; security guards are getting infected and dying because of reckless people. My daughter and wife have been calling every day from Haryana. I have also been getting calls from my company; they even paid me for March. But I don’t want to work. I want to be safe and perhaps I will open a small shop back home.”
Patwari (37), a father of three, is among those who has been trying to leave Delhi for the past month. He had moved to the capital in February. “I got a job at a packaging company and was earning only Rs 1,000 when the lockdown was announced. We were happy in Sitapur, UP. We earned smaller wages but my family was satisfied. Here food shops were closed and what was served at the shelter homes was bad. My children are depressed and they don’t talk to me.
Do I have any option but to go back?” he said.
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