A swimming pool, cricket arena and garden are among the amenities promised at an under-construction building, where a family of seven migrants are staying after five days on the road in a bid to go back home to their native place in Madhya Pradesh. Most of their savings have been spent in their failed effort, and now the family has no money for food, while even officials have not reached out to them with the ration that they have been “promised”.
This is the situation for most migrant workers, who were forcibly turned back by police after they took to the highways to walk hundreds of kilometres back to their home states.
“When we returned on April 1, officials at a chowky in Virar took our names and told us that ration will reach us. They did not take our contact numbers or addresses. We realised no food will reach us. We spent Rs 4,000 in our attempt to reach home and are out of money to even pay for two weeks’ worth of food,” says 24-year-old Dawar.
The family, comprising three women and a two-year-old boy, worked as construction workers and lived in a makeshift tent at one of the building sites.
“When we returned to it, the contractor told us we cannot stay there anymore as we had been out and residents may be apprehensive due to the coronavirus outbreak. So he asked us to stay in this under-construction building,” Dawar says, sitting in a soon-to-be living room.
The Dawar family, stopped by police earlier this week at the state border with Gujarat, had managed to cross over into the neighbouring state along with hundreds on April 1, and set off towards their homes. They had thought the worst was over with regard to dealing with the police, but short of Navasari, they were rounded by the police in Gujarat, packed in a cattle truck and sent home.
“The police there told us they are taking us home to MP. We were pushed like cattle into a truck, some 40 to 50 of us. We were only concerned about our two-year old son,” Dawar says. His 20-year-old tech-savvy brother, Gopal, who often uses Google Maps while travelling to his village, saw that the truck was taking them away from home. “We were moving towards Maharashtra again,” he said.
The authorities in Maharashtra dropped us till Virar and we came back here. They say others, who were from Rajasthan, had it worse. Many were beaten up and forced to get into containers and dropped to Maharashtra again.
At another construction site nearby, a group of 12 from Nanded, is also stuck. “My son, who is visually impaired, is stranded in Parbhani, after the ashram school he is in, asked students to leave. I tried going home but could not due to the lockdown. We are surviving on some food provided by residents of nearby buildings. One group gave us a few kilos of rice last week, which will soon get over. The government has not reached us,” says Laxmibai Suryavanshi.
“We were told this morning that there is a ration shop open close by. We stood in the queue but were told that since we do not have a local ration card, we cannot get ration. We brought some food from an NGO,” says Sharda Sopan, a resident of Parbhani, at another site. Activists are seeking universalisation of ration for migrant workers stranded in different states without jobs or money.
Palghar District Collector Kailash Shinde says there are community kitchens set up as well as distribution of ration in the district, and efforts are being made to reach out to a maximum number of people.
He adds that the numbers at the relief centre in Talasari at the Maharashtra-Gujarat border, has swelled to over 400.
Reacting to reports that migrants returning home via Gujarat-Maharashtra border were packed into containers and sent to Maharashtra from Vapi, Valsad District Superintendent of Police Sunil Joshi told The Indian Express, “We have come across such allegations about labourers being sent back in a container from the Gujarat border. We will check the veracity of the information and have set up an inquiry under Deputy Superintendent (headquarters) Manoj Sharma. We have not come across any information about labourers from Gujarat migrating back to Maharashtra, but we have come to know that labourers from Maharashtra are going back to their native place in Rajasthan through Gujarat.”
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