MADHU DEVI (22), is eight months pregnant. Gulab (20), unmarried, is the youngest of three brothers. Both hail from the same district, Bethia in Bihar, but had never met each other until Sunday. As they first encountered each other outside a Chandigarh bus stop, little did they know that they would become each other’s only family in the following week.
Stranded in a government school outside Bethia, they are now waiting for their families to join them. The Indian Express retraces their footsteps to how their journeys began last Saturday.
It was May 16 when Gulab, his two elder brothers and their father packed up their room in Panchkula’s Sector 21 and left, determined to board a train leaving from Chandigarh. The lack of money, dwindling ration supply and constant threats from their landlord for rent had forced them to take the step.
On May 17, when Madhu woke up, her husband Laddu Patel told her he had decided that they would leave their home in Chandigarh’s Kachhi Colony, Dhanas, a containment zone. He knew about buses leaving from the ISBT 43 bus stand. Madhu quickly packed some essentials — some leftover food and spices, milk for their son, a second-hand gas stove, clothes and blankets. They left their utensils with the landlord, with an assurance that they would come back and stay there again.
Both families had filled online forms via their state portals in the first week of May. Both had waited for messages confirming their seats on a train. With supplies and patience running out, both decided to leave for their village in Bethia.
Gulab and his family had struggled the whole night at Chandigarh railway station and reached the UT bus stop the following day. Finally, Gulab and Madhu found themselves seated next to each other outside the bus stop late Sunday evening.
Almost 100 from Bihar had banded together at the bus stop. They spent their Sunday and Monday outside, struggling to get seats, but to no avail. After they were shooed away from a roundabout near the bus stop by police, the group set out for Mohali railway station.
“A shopkeeper from Chandigarh railway station told us trains were leaving from Mohali so we went there,” said Gulab. They spent Monday night at a gurudwara in Mohali.
The following day turned out fateful for Madhu and Gulab, as they stood outside the station like many others, without being registered at the Punjab portal. Gulab, Madhu, her one-year-old son, at the time on Gulab’s lap as Laddu was holding the bags, were allowed in by police, while Madhu’s husband and Gulab’s family were left behind. “I was holding her son as bhaiya (Madhu’s husband) held all the bags. When the policemen saw us, they let only two of us through the crowd. We pleaded with them to let our families board, but there was only space for two they said. So our families asked us to leave without them,” said Gulab.
Laddu was worried about his wife’s pregnancy and hence forced her to get on board without him. “She was in her last term with less than a month for delivery. We did not have any food left. Yahaan koi dekhne vala bhi nahi hai. Now that I was sure she will reach home, I will started walking (home),” he said. Laddu has now reached Panipat and is hopeful he will get a bus from there to the UP border.
Laddu and Madhu had shifted to Panchkula only two months ago to work for a private clothing company in Chandigarh. “I have not been paid for April or March. They gave us Rs 500- Rs 1000 every week in April for food but that is it. We have run out of everything now,” said Laddu. All income of the family has stopped as his brothers in Jaipur and Ludhiana too had returned home.
Gulab and his family had been living in Panchkula for more than eight years, working as daily wagers — building ceilings, homes, furniture and plumbing of the city.
He had filled the online registration on May 4 and waited to receive a message of train or bus for more than a week before setting out to cover more than 1200 km on foot. “But as we reached Ambala, my father (55) got very sick. He fainted and could not even stand. All of us (brothers) got worried. So we stayed there and rested in a jungle for a few hours and returned to Panchkula,” said Gulab.
Gulab’s family is still stuck in Punjab as his father cannot walk. On Thursday, they finally found space on a Mohali train to Patna. They will reach Patna on Friday, but are not sure if they will be quarantined at Patna itself or will be taken home somehow and then be quarantined.
“Humaara bas itna hi hai, saari zindagi kamaane khaane ki jaddo jehed, ab ghar jaane ki jaddo jehed (All our lives we put effort into earning to feed our stomachs, now we are putting all our efforts into reaching home),” said Gulab’s father, Manni Miyaan (55), adding, “Khaane peene ki itni dikkat thi ke duusro se lena padta hai. Sharam aati thi (We had such a shortage of food that we had to ask others. We felt shame doing so).”
Back at the quarantine facility outside Bethia, Gulab’s mother and Madhu’s mother-in-law have ensured both are fed well. “They come thrice a day to give us fresh food. The school did not have a fan here so we have all chipped in and got the cable connected. The table fan has been brought here by my mother. Maa baap apne bete ko dukhi nahi na dekh skte hain (parents can’t bear to see their children upset),” said Gulab, adding that he and nine others at the quarantine school are happy to see their families, even from a distance and to be near their homes.
More than 75,000 from Chandigarh, 24,000 Mohali and 35,000 from Panchkula — as per records made available by administration last week — have applied to leave the cities. Panchkula meanwhile has been able to send less than 2,500 of its migrant labourers using buses with a maximum of 30 persons at a time to be sent to border cities of Uttar Pradesh.
Rajeev Tiwari, nodal officer for migrant movement in Chandigarh, told The Indian Express, “It is being ensured no migrant is left on the road. Specific orders in this regard have been sent by the Ministry of Home Affairs to SSP Chandigarh as well as others. Our police officials have ensured they do not sleep on roads. We even brought 70 migrants who were sitting on roads to our shelter homes and put 50 of them on trains to UP.”
With more than 75,000 applications from Chandigarh, only 170 beds have been made in its two shelter homes. “We can make more if required,” said Tiwari.
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