For 19-year-old Mausam Kumar, a daily wage labourer from Bihar stranded in Ahmedabad, the days are getting longer, as he impatiently squats on a pile of marble chips at an under-construction high rise.
On May 1, the World Labour Day, Kumar and several other workers are waiting for an update on the COVID-19 lockdown.
A news pops up on his phone, bringing smile on his face: the Centre has started arrangements for the transportation of stranded migrant labourers to their home states.
Kumar says that for him and his family back in Muzaffarpur of Bihar, his homecoming will be no less than Chhath Pooja — the biggest festival in the state.
He and 50 other labourers have been stranded at the high rise project for the past 40 days in Science City of Ahmedabad.
Homesick and exhausted, Kumar claims once he is back to his village, he intends to stay there for at least 2-3 months.
“This year we won’t be able to celebrate Chhath Pooja in November as we might have to come back to Ahmedabad after July or August. But my family is not bothered about it. They just want me to come back,” says Kumar.
Similar is the story of 33-year-old Naushan Javed from Munger in Bihar, who is stranded with a dozen-odd labourers in Chandlodia area of Ahmedabad.
“Ramzan month has already started. My family wishes to see me back by the time Eid arrives after May 20. This is the ‘eidi’ that I can gift to my daughter and son,” says Javed.
However, for Kumar and Javed, this homecoming will be devoid of any gifts or sweets which they carry while going home during festivals.
“I usually make a trip of old city, a day before my train journey and buy dresses for my kids and sweets and farsan for my family. This time I won’t be able to do that,” says Javed.
Similarly, 42-year-old Dhiresh Rai, a native of Sitamarhi in Bihar, who is employed as a worker in sewing factory, has been stuck in Vatva area of Ahmedabad for the past 40 days.
He claims that he gets Rs 10 for each dress he stitches for the garment company, which has now been shut due to lockdown.
“My two children live with me in Vatva. We have no money and now we want to go back to Sitamarhi. Every year, we travel to our village and stay there for 3-4 months during Diwali and Chhath Pooja. However, this year we will go now itself and try to return back to Ahmedabad by August,” says Rai.
Even as the workers hope that they will be called back once the lockdown is over, uncertainty still looms large over them.
“Our Seth has indeed provided us ration during lockdown, but when we ask him about when can we expect to resume work, he remains mum. I am guessing, we have to find new project offers once we are back in Bihar,” says Asharfi Lal (41), another daily wage labourer stuck in the Science City area.
The Gujarat government has recently constituted a committee for transportation of the stranded labourers, students and tourists back to their home state. While the officials claim that they have not compiled the data of stranded labourers from Bihar across the state yet, the process has started through the digital portal of Gujarat government.
“We appeal to the natives of Bihar to register themselves with the digital portal of the state government. We are also sending our staff to coordinate with local NGOs and municipal corporations to find out about the exact number,” said a senior police officer.
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