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Bellies filled with food, hearts longing for home: Story of migrant labourers at a shelter home

Several migrants, who started walking from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh towards their homes soon after the 21-day lockdown was announced, were picked up and put at several shelters beginning March 29.

Written by Sofi Ahsan , Pallavi Singhal | Panchkula |
April 2, 2020 4:24:19 am
coronavirus, coronavirus lockdown, india lockdown, migrant workers, migrant workers migration, indian express news At a shelter home for migrant labourers at Government Primary School in Sector 20, Panchkula. (Photo by Jaipal Singh)

EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD Usman is one among the many labourers who last week set out on foot in several parts of India to reach their homes after announcement of the lockdown. But before he could reach his home, the news of his mother passing away reached him. Stopped midway due to the ongoing restrictions, as he sits distraught at a shelter home in Panchkula, his mother has been buried at his village in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur.

“My father managed to reach home as he had set out before me, many of us were stopped midway. She died of a heart attack on Monday. I had spoken to her over the phone the night before she died,” says Usman, who is among the 60 labourers who have been put up at Sector 20 Primary School in Panchkula.
Usman and his father had been working in Himachal Pradesh’s Una district for the past three years. “We would manage to send some Rs 15,000 home per month. She died soon after I told her I had been stopped. My father was able to reach before her burial,” he says.

Several migrants, who started walking from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh towards their homes soon after the 21-day lockdown was announced, were picked up and put at several shelters beginning March 29. A day later, the Ministry of Home Affairs directed governments to accommodate the migrant labourers and not allow them to leave their places.

Many of the labourers at the Sector 20 shelter home are from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur, which shares a border with Haryana. They have no complaints regarding food and lodging at the place but a longing to reach their homes, where their children or ailing parents live.

“They can even wash us with milk but our hearts are there. We do not know when this will end and what will happen to our children back home. Everything is normal here, including food and roof over head, but thinking of the condition our family is in, with no food left, our worries are going nowhere,” says Naushad, another resident of Saharanpur.

The school, which is a shelter home now, has six rooms. While several of them with smartphones videocall their families, most others with their simple phones haven’t seen the faces of their ailing parents, worried wives and the children since long.

Fifty-year-old Jaipal Kumar says, “I wish to go to my home. Even though I am being fed here and taken care of, it will be better to die of hunger together with family rather than staying here away from them and worried about them.”

Jaipal had started walking from Ananatpur Sahib in Punjab to reach Saharanpur with seven others. “I do not have even a single rupee in my pocket. We were dying of hunger. We had stopped getting our daily wages and spent everything we had. All of the money our employer owed us for two months has not been given to us. He just shut shop and left. We would eat at gurdwaras,” he says.

He points towards his chappals. “Look, my slippers have worn out. My feet have blisters and my legs ache from walking. But I am still ready to set back, only if the officials let us go. We have already covered the major distance. Only a 100 kilometers more were left,” he says.

Arun, 20, who had reached Baddi only 20 days ago, hailing from a small village of Rangpura in Bareilly district of UP , to work in a plastic production factory had set off on foot alone on March 27. The arduous journey was supposed to come to an end on Wednesday according to his estimate, had he not been picked up by the Panchkula police.

“I have two sisters and one mother at home. My mother remains sick and my younger sister, 17, does household jobs”, he says. Arun left school after his father passed away when he was very young. He along with his brother has taken care of them but today, they are too distant, like many others stuck in places alien to them, away from their homes.

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