As Shehzada Khan (24) stood at the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal waiting for a bus to Sahibabad, he recalled the journey that took him to his hometown a month and a half ago.
“I got stuck at the factory when the lockdown was imposed, and the factory owner gave us our salary only for the next month, after which it was stopped. I had to ask my family to send me money,” said Khan. After much struggle, he was able to head back to Bihar via the Shramik trains in May.
Unable to find any job back home, now he is back at the same job at the toy factory but this time on a lower salary.
“The money I used to send back home was important…now I also need to earn a living, fill our stomachs. We have no choice but to head back. The factory owner called me back but we will get paid only for 15 days per month as there is no work at the moment. It is better than nothing,” he said.
At the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal in East Delhi, many migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are arriving, and have started heading back to work in Delhi and other parts of the country.
After the nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 24, which immediately banned all forms of travel, lakhs of working class daily wage labourers returned to their home in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand, often walking hundreds of kilometres. In May, Shramik trains were arranged by the Railways to transport them.
Even though industries have started to reopen, factors such as the breakdown of supply chains, low demand and missing workers have meant work is off to a slow start. At the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal, though, there is a noticeable movement of migrant workers returning to work due to necessity.
Manoj Gond (25) from Azamgarh in UP worked at a pipe-making factory at Secunderabad earning around Rs 15,000 per month. He left for home in early March before the lockdown was imposed as work had stopped at the factory. “I have a large family, and there is no work at home. We have to make a living too, so I am heading back to work,” he said.
Hailing from Meerut, Mohammad Rahisudeen (45) and Mohammad Asif (32) arrived at the terminal, wishing to go to Kashmir. Rahisudeen said, “We work as labourers in Kashmir, and our employer has called us back. We earn around Rs 300-350 per day.” With families to support, the men are left without any choice even as cases continue to rise. “We got ourselves tested at a government hospital, as our employer wanted it,” said Asif.
The group has booked a train to Jammu from the New Delhi railway station, and will hail a cab from Jammu to Kashmir.
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