Unemployed for the past 45 days and unable to manage even basic food requirements, Mohammad Toshi, a 30-year-old house painter set out on his bicycle for his hometown, Forbesganj in Bihar, along with 25 of his workmates on Thursday night. Nearing Yamuna Nagar at Haryana border on Friday, the group was forced by policemen to return on the Punjab route, on the pretext of getting them registered for a train to Bihar from Ambala, after their medical examination is done.
The painters were allegedly made to board a truck with their bicycles and were informed by the police that they were heading to Ambala Railway Station, however, they were all left on different isolated routes in Punjab and asked to return to Chandigarh.
With puffed up eyes, riding a cycle under the hot sun, the Bihar natives pleaded, “Humara Bihar ki train ke liye registration karwake, ghar pahuchwa do, nahi toh bhuk se marjayengay (Register us for a train to Bihar and send us back home or we will die of hunger)”
Toshi and the others, who were cycling back to Chandigarh through the Ambala-Chandigarh highway on Friday afternoon, said that they had tried to register themselves for a train to Bihar, but the registration of a few did not get processed, while some others did not receive any message about the train. Thus, they decided to travel to Bihar on their bicycles, as they are left with no money.
“We set out from Forbesganj in Bihar around 10-12 years back. We first worked in Punjab and then eventually shifted to Chandigarh. On March 21, as the lockdown was announced, work was stopped by the contractors. Living in Kajheri, we waited for the lockdown to end. After May 3, when we learnt that we will not be getting any work for paint as of now from the contractors, so we decided to return to Bihar through train, but application was not getting submitted on the portal and neither did we receive any message about the train’s departure,” said Mohammad Toshi.
“All of us used to live in small rooms at Kajheri in Chandigarh. We have no money left and have been asking our families in Bihar to send us Rs 500-Rs 1,000 for getting grocery, but now even our families have denied to send more money. The train registration also could not be done, so we were forced to start for Bihar on our bicycles,” said Rahup, another daily wager in the group.
The workers started cycling around 10 pm on Thursday and reached Yamuna Nagar at Haryana border by 11 am on Friday, when they were stopped by policemen and prohibited from crossing the border.
Rahup said, “At the border, we were told by policemen that they will help us all and get us registered for the train, after a medical check-up. But then, we were taken in a truck along with our bicycles and abandoned on the Ludhiana highway, with a suggestion to move back from where we came.”
Another worker who is a part of the group, Mohammad Raban said, they are less likely to die of coronavirus, than of hunger. “Please help us register for the train to Bihar, for which each of us we will also pay Rs 100. If stay here longer, we will die of hunger, without any job.”
The workers alleged that as they went to local police station in Chandigarh, instead of providing guidance and assistance, the police forced them to leave for home. “Because we are illiterate, we are forced to remain empty stomach and travel in scorching heat, with no sleep,” added Raban
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