After their workplaces closed down due to the lockdown, a group of 50 migrant labourers had started off on a 800-km walk from Tukkuguda in Hyderabad to their homes at Betul district in Madhya Pradesh.
After they had walked about 80 km, police stopped them and convinced them to stay at a school-turned-shelter for now.
“The places where we were working as construction workers have closed down. Our supervisors are not answering our calls. We did not even get our wages. Without money, food or transport, we decided it is better to try and go home than be left to fate here,” said Dayal Mandal, a worker from Hirapur village of Betul district.
“We waited for 3-4 days, but when rumours started that someone got coronavirus in the colony where we were living, we decided to leave,” he added.
Most members in the group worked as construction workers at a luxury villas project. They started walking Sunday afternoon. “We were near Ghatkesar when members of NGO Ankuram stopped us and offered food and water. When we told them where we were going, they were taken aback and asked to wait. Later, police brought us here. We were given rice, curry and water Sunday night. The NGO provided ration today and we are cooking lunch. Police and NGO members have told us to stay here for a few days, but our family members are worried and are telling us to return home,” said Dipak Mandal, another worker.
The workers, who hail from various villages in Betul, have been coming to Hyderabad for the last three years. “Labour contractors bring us to work at construction sites. This season, we went home for Holi and returned about 15 days ago and then this happened. Owners of the projects stopped coming to the sites. Then contractors and supervisors told us to stay put and that they would arrange something but they too disappeared,” said Navin, another member of the group.
The labourers said they found the NH-44 route to Betul via Nizamabad and Nagpur using Google Maps.
M Sumitra, head of NGO Ankuram, said it was difficult to convince the workers to move to the shelter. “They had some dry ration and planned to cook on the way. We informed police who moved them to the shelter at Bogaram. They don’t intend to stay for long. They want to go home, even if it means walking 800 km,” Sumitra said.
“I was taken aback when they said they planned to walk all the way. We convinced them to stay at the shelter for a few days,” Rachakonda Police Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat said.
One of the workers, Mohan (22), said, “My wife and parents are worried. They know it is difficult to go back home but they think that in this crisis, it is better to be at home than anywhere else. Families are scared, so most of us feel we should start walking because we cannot wait till the lockdown is lifted… we will go mad…we will take our chance. We will talk to police and NGO people,” he said.
The officials are determined not to let them leave. “Telangana CM has assured that no one will go hungry and all migrants would be taken care of. We have taken down details of how much rice and dry ration and vegetables they will need and it will be provided,” an official said.
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