When the news of 11 coworkers’ death in vehicle smash-up in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya reached Bimal Kalindi, he was locked up in a quarantine centre in Jharkhand’s Bokaro feeling “lucky” to have reached his village alive.
Kalindi and his coworkers at a marble factory in Jaipur had split in two groups and left for their village in Bokaro on May 12, a day earlier than others who met with the accident.
“There was an unrest in the factory over payment as contract workers did not get their due since March. We left on May 12 and we walked for a few hours before we were put on a bus and were told that it would go to Jharkhand, but were dropped midway…Sensing trouble we called others who were yet to leave and warned that the journey was fraught with challenges and advised then not to come,” said Kalindi through the locked grill of Gopalpur Panchayat’s quarantine centre.
They did not pay heed, and it was the “insecurity”, he thinks, that drove them out of Rajasthan.
After days of walking and hitching rides, they reached their Panchayat Bhavan on May 16, the day 25 migrant workers died in an accident that took place in Auraiya district around 2.30 am. They were “shocked” to hear that the other group had met with an accident.
Labourer Ajay Mahato said that after being dropped midway, they walked. “We walked to Bharatpur, and left for Uttar Pradesh on a trailer. Then we hitched ride on a truck carrying empty gas cylinders and we crossed Aurayia. Near Kanpur we were dropped again,” he said.
We began walking after a truck driver duped us. “He dropped us seeing a traffic jam and fled. He charged Rs 4,000 per head,” said Mahato. After two more rides, they reached Bokaro border and were picked up by family members.
With the trauma of journey and deaths, Mahto and Kalindi said they will look for jobs in Jharkhand. “We never got any work at our village. We wish for employment opportunity in our state. Otherwise we will be forced to leave again,” said Kalindi.
Gopalpur Panchayat comprising three villages has a population of 5,000 people with 3,500 voters, according to the ‘Mukhiya Pati’ Pashupati Mahato, husband of Mukhiya Thandha Devi of the village. He said around 40% are forced to migrate due to lack of jobs. “In the last few days more than 200 had registered to get relief money announced by the state government for relief work. There are many who did not register,” he said.
Pashupati Mahato said that 70-80 % are small and marginal farmers and labourers in the panchayat. “Only one crop, paddy, is cultivated and they come back for it. Work in MNREGA is very slow and payment gets transferred after 30-40 days. So I have stopped convincing them,” he said.