“Bhukhe mar jayenge, nadi kinare phek de, lekin phir bhi ghar jayenge (I am ready to die of hunger, they can throw me by the river, but still I will go home),” says Neeraj Kumar, a 20-year-old daily wage labourer who works at a factory near Singur, while walking briskly on the Durgapur Expressway near Dankuni. After the 21-day nationwide lockdown was imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus, his factory was shut down. With little money and a few biscuit packets, Kumar on Monday packed his belongings and started for his native place in Bihar’s Sasaram, 500 km from here.
He doesn’t know how long it will take him to reach his home or if he will be able to reach at all. He knows only one thing – “I cannot die on a foreign land, away from my loved ones.”
Like Kumar, thousands of other migrant workers are unaware that the state government has ordered all the district administrations to provide food, shelter and medicine for them. They also do not know that the Centre has directed the states to extend all help and asked migrant workers to stay wherever they are.
To stop the migrants, the state administration has already sealed all iner- and intra-state borders, but in vain.
On Monday morning, thousands of workers are seen heading home, some in other districts, some in other states.
Munir Sheikh (20) and Ibrahim Sheikh (18), residents of Dhulian of Murshidabad district, work as mason at Balasore in Odisha. After work at their construction site stopped, they too had no means of earning. Initially, they had hoped that things will change. “But nothing happened. On the other hand, our savings dipped and we could not afford to arrange any accommodation. We managed with only one meal a day. We had no other way, but come back home,” says Munir.
He says that they started walking from Balasore on Sunday morning. Midway, they were lucky to get a lift on a truck that dropped them at Santragachhi on Monday morning. Then they started on foot again.
“If we are able to reach home, we will at least have a shelter,” says Ibrahim. They walk for a stretch of 10-15 km, take rest for half an hour and then resume their journey.
On the Durgapur Expressway, Munir and Ibrahim are accompanied by four co-workers. They meet another 10-15 workers from Uluberia and are on their way to Murshidabad together.
In the new group, Rabiul Sheikh (17) and Asfar Sheikh (18) are also masons and residents of Ratni in Murshidabad district. Rabiul says, “We started from Uluberia on Sunday afternoon on a matador. But police stopped us at Satrangachhi and took us to a police outpost. We were asked to go back to Uluberia. But how can we go back to a place where we don’t have any food?”
“If police arrest us, we will run into trouble. But we are not criminals. We just want to go home,” he adds.
Whenever they see a vehicle approaching, they desperately wave at them to stop. “No vehicle is ready to offer a lift, not even a hearse,” says Asfar.
Sebanand (23), who drives a truck in Kolkata, is walking towards his home at Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh. He is accompanied by Bablu Yadav (30), also a truck driver and is a native of UP’s Azamgarh. “We have no work, no money. All we have is our family. So, we want to be them in our own village.” Twenty-year-old Abdul Latif, who works in a digital embroidery firm, also feels the same.
“My home is at Ilambazar in Birbhum. My mother and two sisters are waiting for me. In times like these, we only want to be with each other.”
Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?
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