Lakhs of migrant workers, who fuel Mumbai’s economy but went back to their home states during the lockdown in April and May, are now coming back to the city. The Indian Express tracked seven of them over two to three weeks from the time of their arrival to see what has changed for them. One found out his job no longer exists, another’s employer gave him a different job from the one he was doing at the time he left, yet another got a better paying job.
From Balrampur, returned to the city by train three weeks ago
Works in a small-scale unit
Kamaluddin has been working in Mumbai for over ten years in a pipe parts manufacturing unit in Andheri. He went home in January and was stranded there during the lockdown. He returned to Mumbai in spite of his family’s protestations in view of the increasing Covid cases because his savings had dried up.
Back in the city, Kamaluddin now operates five machines instead of one initially. “There were only 3-4 workers initially, now 12 have returned. We work from 9 am to 8 pm. The work is more but the salary is the same. I understand that the unit’s owner has suffered losses too but we both need to adjust since these are difficult times,” he said.
Matloob Hussain, 28
From Prayagraj, returned to the city on June 24
Works as an electrician
Hussain had reached his home on May 16 during the lockdown after paying Rs 5,000 to a truck driver. But, within a week, he realised returning without any hope of livelihood is not sustainable. He says that the gram sabha had taken down details of workers who returned promising them work under MNREGA but it only led to an unending wait for work.
The staggered and cautious reopening in Mumbai continues to pose hurdles in earning a day’s pay for Hussain. Firstly, Hussain has had to get a medical certificate every seven days shelling out Rs 200 each time from his meage earnings. “There is no entry into housing societies without a certificate. Many societies are still not allowing entry at all, so there is less work. Nothing is the same now, nobody even offers a glass of water,” Hussain says. Another challenge for Hussain and others in his group of five who share a room is that of food.
Dependent on small eateries for their sustenance or community kitchens during the lockdown which are now discontinued in most areas, the group on most days has one meal a day. “Today, since morning I have had only one small energy drink for Rs 20. At least, they should restart the food or ration distribution,” he says.
Anup Pandey, 26
From Rewa district in Madhya Pradesh, returned to the city by train on June 25
Works in an eatery in Kandivali
Pandey worked as a cook before the lockdown. His main duty was that of making rotis. Since his return, with restaurants, eateries shut and takeaways in demand, Pandey has been assigned the work of a delivery boy. From being paid a fixed salary of Rs 12,000, Pandey now gets paid a commission on every delivery he makes in a day. He starts his day at 10 am and works till 5 pm, takes a break for an hour usually spending it making calls back home to his family, and returns to work again from 6 pm to 10 pm. He has been provided a face shield, mask, sanitiser and a cycle to make the food deliveries. “It is a big change from the work I was used to doing but since the eatery itself has suffered losses, I took whatever duty they gave me. My family is concerned that I have to be out constantly but I assure them that I am taking all required precautions,” he said. Work for Pandey, however, is erratic. “There is not much work till hotels open again,” he says.
Pradip Kumar, 35
From Gaya, Bihar
Works in a home in South Mumbai as a cook
Kumar returned from his village on June 25 and after spending 14 days in quarantine resumed work as a cook at a home where he has worked for many years. He has not stepped out of the house even once. “The housing society does not allow anyone to go out and I also feel it is safer to not venture out. My family members keep worrying since they hear in the news that the numbers in Mumbai are increasing. But, they are reassured since I do not step out at all,” Kumar says.
He adds that while work-wise there has not been any major change, he feels that things are not the same since everybody has the apprehension of being infected. The only difference that Kumar feels between life now and what it was before the pandemic hit Mumbai is the absence of his family. Kumar has refrained his wife and children to return to Mumbai till things improve.
Samad Alam, 34
From East Champaran, Bihar
Works as a tailor in a cargo pants unit in Dharavi
“Paise ki zaroorat lockdown mein rukh toh nahi sakti na,” says Alam on why he returned within a month of reaching his village. Alam says that many like him who returned did not get any employment and were left struggling. He says that due to the pressure to sustain his family back home which includes his wife and children, Alam decided to return after his employer told him that the unit will resume work. “Before the lockdown was imposed, we had received over 2,500 fabric pieces to be stitched. Only five workers have returned so far of the 28 who worked in the unit. The five of us are able to stitch 50-60 pieces a day and will be paid the same amount as earlier per piece. Once this stock is over, we will have to wait for the next order. We are working with the hope that we are able to at least make some earnings once the festive period like Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali starts and there is an increase in demand for clothes,” Alam says.
Asif Mohammad, 19
From Prayagraj, returned to the city by train on June 24
Works at a construction site at Sewri
Asif, skilled at welding, was employed at a repair shop in Kurla where he would earn Rs 13,000 a month. He left for his hometown during the lockdown and only agreed to return after a group from his village was assured of some construction work and were also given an advance of Rs 5,000. Asif, who now works as a cutter and welder at the underconstruction Sewri-Navha Shiva Trans Harbour Link, has been assured Rs 18,000 a month for eight hours at the site. “This work is better as I’m equipped at handling both machines for cutting and welding. We have also been told that the government will be giving us Rs 5,000 more and they have taken our account details,” said an excited Asif. Asif is assured that the construction of the bridge will at least go one for the next four years, assuring work.
Vikrant Chaubey, 26
From Varanasi, returned to the city on June 24
Was called for a job at a pharmaceutical company in Andheri, is presently unemployed
Vikrant came to Mumbai in early 2019 looking for a job and was doing odd jobs. He had applied for an office boy at a pharmaceutical company in Andheri and was given placement in March 2020. He returned to his hometown with the lockdown as the company also shut down. However, Vikrant returned on June 24, after he received a mail that the company was restarting. But once he returned, he was asked to double up as a cleaner, washing toilets at the office. “I was assured of an office boy, I have completed my graduation,” said Vikrant. With nowhere to go, he is for now staying with a friend who works as a security guard. The two have been trying hard to find a similar job as a security person but to no avail. “We tried several places but no one is ready to hire,” said Vikrant. He has a 10 month old child and a wife back home.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines