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Monday, June 01, 2020

Surviving on borrowed money, might as well die trying to get home: Bihari migrants in Worli

Manish Kumar (26), who hails from the Vaishali district in Bihar, had arrived in Mumbai along with 30 of his fellow villagers days before the lockdown was imposed.

Written by Sandeep Ashar | Mumbai | Updated: May 11, 2020 3:23:20 pm
india lockdown, india lockdown migrant owkrers, maharashtra lockdown, maharashtra lockdown migrant workers, mumbai lockdown, mumbai city news While the government had recently done away with the need for migrant workers to show this piece of paper as a requisite to board a train to their respective states, Manish continues to keep it as a prized possession. (Representational)

At Madraswadi, a slum a little distance away from one of the containment zones in Worli, men stand around on the streets with worried expressions. The stress of waiting for that lone phone call from the local police station, asking them to gather to board a train or bus that would take them home, is evident on their faces.

Manish Kumar (26), who hails from the Vaishali district in Bihar, had arrived in Mumbai along with 30 of his fellow villagers days before the lockdown was imposed. The extended lockdown meant that Manish, who tried to leave his drought-prone village in Bihar, remains penniless. His most prized possession these days is a bag full of papers, which include a medical certificate that proclaims that he is fit to travel.

While the government had recently done away with the need for migrant workers to show this piece of paper as a requisite to board a train to their respective states, Manish continues to keep it as a prized possession.

All that he waits for now these days is the call from the Worli police station asking him to be ready. He claims that he has been following up regularly with the police about their travel applications, but is yet to hear anything.

“We have visited the police station at least five times. But they just send us back without any answer. We aren’t in the containment zone. Our medical reports are fine. Why aren’t they letting us go?” says Manish.

In a desperate gesture, he adds, “I think I will also walk back home. I know people have died while on the way, but I don’t care, I would rather die trying to get home than die here of hunger or coronavirus. If not a train, at least give us a cycle, but let us go.”

Santosh Rai (33), also hailing from a village in Vaishali, had come to Mumbai just 11 days before the lockdown was imposed and had barely managed to earn anything. A father of two, Santosh says the desire to pay off his family’s debt had brought him to Mumbai. But fate had other plans.

Crammed in a 9 ft-by-6 ft room with three others with no work since the lockdown was declared on March 24, the daily wage earner says he is surviving on borrowed money. “An NGO has been helping us with ration supplies. But what about other necessities? You need kerosene to cook. You need oil. You need soap to bathe.”

Facing the Worli seaface, Madraswadi – an informal settlement – is home to thousands of migrant daily wage earners. It has a sizeable Bihari population, even as workers from southern India have a dominant presence in the slum.

Shatrughan Rai (55), a native of Gaya, says: “A few days ago, some men who lived here left for their homes. It took them 18 days, but they are now back with their family. That made us wonder if we had made a mistake, trying to adhere to the lockdown norms. The authorities are not telling us when they will provide us transport.”

“There is no hygiene here. We are crammed in small rooms. Eight to 10 people reside in one room. We are scared we will touch something and get infected. We would have been safer in our village,” he adds. A taxi driver, Shatrughan has been coming to Mumbai since 1985.

On the day the lockdown was imposed, Shatrughan recounts how all of them had packed their bags and made a beeline for the railway station only to find that trains had stopped running as well. Lawyer and human rights activist Lara Jesani, who has been helping these migrants with rations and food for the last one-and-a half month, said: “They have tried to submit their applications with medical clearance to the Worli police station. But the police have said they won’t accept any forms from Worli. But then the slum is situated outside the containment zone. Why should they be made to wait till the end of the lockdown?”

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