March 29, 2020 2:25:31 am
When 70-year-old Narayan Patel went to Rameshwaram and Tirupati in the first week of March with 17 friends from his village in Raipur, there was little murmur of trouble.
The group is now stuck on the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border, about 50 km from their village. After walking and hitching rides for over a 1,000 km, their patience is drawing thin.
On the Odisha side of the border, a medical camp has been set up. Dr Pradyumna Barik, a community healthcare worker, was woken up Thursday night by the sound of vehicles. “At first we thought they were migrant workers, but most of them were over 50. When I asked where they had come from, they said Tirupati,” he said.
The group was in Tirupati when Janata Curfew was announced. “We had booked rooms in a lodge, but they told us to leave,” Rajkumar Chandrakar (56) said. “We had a reservation for March 22, but railway staff told us trains might stop running. So we booked general tickets and tried to board a train. It was so crowded that none of us could get in,” Chandrakar said.
They then walked for 300 km and then hitchhiked to Parvati-puram in Andhra Pradesh in a truck. From there, they walked for nearly 200 km to Bhawanipatna in Odisha. “In Odisha, we managed to hire two vehicles to the border. There, we were given food and the border staff sent a message to the Chhattisgarh border staff,” Patel said.
On Saturday, the men crossed the border. “We are tired. The Sarpanch in Temali asked us to move to an empty school building. We are so close, we just want to go home,” he said.
Ashif Khan (32) and his brothers are stranded on the Chhattisgarh- Maharashtra border. They operate JCB machines in Rajnandgaon district, but are originally from Haryana. “Our work has stopped. Our families are restless back home,” he said.
Trucks are lined up near the border. Bimlesh Singh from Jharkhand drives trucks between Chhattisgarh and Visakhapatnam. “I was hours away from the pick-up spot when police stopped me and asked me to return. I have been stuck for five days. My boss has asked me to return, but the border staff won’t let me in,” he said.
Among those stranded is a group of 10 people with a body. “My nephew died in an accident near Mumbai. His family is in Jharkhand. We are trying to take the body back, we have all permits, but we are stopped at every border and made to wait,” Mithilesh Singh (56) said.
They managed to cross the Chhattisgarh border Saturday and hope to reach Jharkhand Sunday afternoon. “We don’t wish this on our worst enemies. This lockdown wasn’t planned properly,” he said.
Mukrim Ali, 26, lost his mother Wednesday and spent the day looking for transport to Varanasi, about 654 km from Raipur. Three days later, he is stuck in Koriya, 300-odd km from where he started on foot.
“Please ask them to let me go. I need to be with my younger brother,” said the electrician. “I was working to ensure better treatment for her. Now she is dead and I wasn’t even there for her burial.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.