As migrant workers across the country set off on foot in a desperate attempt to reach their home states, the situation took a violent turn in Surat on Sunday night when police tried to stop about 500 textile factory workers – mostly migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The migrant workers, mostly employed in the powerloom factories and dyeing and printing units of Surat, had left their rented rooms in Pandesara area, and were walking towards the Natio-nal Highway, about 20 km away.
When police stopped them near Sachin area, about 2 km from Pandesara, some of the workers reportedly started pelting stones. While nobody was injured, some police vehicles were damaged.
Around 11.30 pm, police first resorted to a lathicharge and then fired 30 teargas shells, pushing them back to Pandesara. Ninety-six workers were arrested for rioting; they were released on bail on Monday.
“When the police personnel were trying to convince them to remain indoors, they started pelting stones at them. Several police vehicles were damaged in the stone pelting,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone 3, Vidhi Chaudhari.
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Police registered a rioting complaint and arrested 96 people, all migrant workers. On Monday, all those arrested were produced before a court and later released on bail.
“We have lodged an FIR against a mob of 500 people. They were charged under sections related to rioting, attacking police, damaging public property and also under provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act for defying restrictions,” Chaudhari told PTI.
“The situation is under control. The police team tried their best to convince the workers, but the workers had only one thing on their mind – to walk back home. We arrested 96 people for rioting,” said Chaudhari.
Following the incident, security has been tightened in Pandesara. “We have talked to all those arrested and explained that it is not possible to leave the city. We have talked to some social workers and they are supplying food packets in the area,” said Chaudhari.
Sources said officials had also requested local landlords to waive the rent.
Pankaj Kumar Gupta (22), from Buxar in Bihar, was among those who set off on foot on Sunday. “We left with a bottle of water, cellphone and power bank,” he said. The plan, he said, was to use the phone GPS to make their way to Ahmedabad or Vadodara, and then home.
“When the police stopped us, we told them that we didn’t have food or money, and had no other option. They still stopped us. When we resisted, they beat us up with sticks,” he said.
“Due to uncertainty in the textile industry, our dyeing and printing units remain closed for two days in a week. We earn around 10,000 per month. After the lockdown was announced, the factory owners told us not to come to work and did not even clear our pending dues,” he said.
“We stay in a rented room of 10 ft X 10 ft, in a chawl with a common toilet and bathroom. Five of us live in a room with no fan or sunlight. We feel suffocated if have to stay in that room for over an hour,” he said.
Rauji Jeewan Verma (40), from Amirpur in UP, said the owner of the dyeing and printing unit where he worked had not paid his salary. “We are surviving on our savings, which is less than Rs 1,000. The local kirana shop owners are charging double. The monthly rent of my room, which I share with three others, is Rs 3,000; on Saturday, the landlord warned us to hand in the rent by month-end, or to leave. We are surviving on rice and salt, the vegetable carts have stopped,” he said.
Sanjay Kumar Yadav (23) said he was was worried about his seven-year-old brother, who lives with his widowed mother in Banda district of UP. He said his brother was sick, and he had asked a friend to take him to hospital. “But the police beat them up; there is nobody to take him to hospital now. So, I decided to leave for home,” he said.
Hafiz Ali (22), from Maujpur in UP, said his monthly income is Rs 15,000, of which he sends Rs 10,000 to his parents. “We have nothing to eat here. When we go out to buy something, police beat us up. My father keeps calling me,” he said. “We heard that the lockdown may continue for three months. I have only Rs 3,000, how can I survive,” he said.
Dharmendra Kumar (32), from Azamgarh in UP, also said the dyeing and printing mill where he worked had not paid his salary last month. “There is no other option than to return to Azamgarh by any means, even on foot,” he said.
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