The general ward at Combined District Hospital in Auraiya district has only four patients on Saturday afternoon. The four are survivors of the early Saturday morning accident in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya district, where a truck carrying migrants from Delhi and Ghaziabad crashed into a truck trailer from Rajasthan, killing 26 people, at least eight of them from Bokaro, Jharkhand.
On bed number 14, Umesh Kumar Kalindi, 27, native of Jharkhand’s Bokaro district, is resting with tears in his eyes and wall putty on his clothes and hair. Kalindi lost three members of his family in the accident.
“I lost my brother Yogeshwar, my nephew and my cousin in the accident,” says Umesh, who worked at a marble factory in Jaipur. Another of his nephews, Vikas, survived the accident.
Umesh says he along with 30 others from the marble factory left on foot from Jaipur after a labour unrest over delayed payment of salaries.
“It was impossible to continue without money, so on May 14, we left on foot. After we had walked a few kilometres, we were stopped at a police chowki and kept at a quarantine facility for 24 hours. Then, a local leader arranged a bus for us the next day. Around two hours after the bus started, we were stopped at Bharatpur at a police check post. The police official asked the bus driver to take the bus back. Fifteen minutes later, he told us to get on to the trailer truck carrying putty, which would have dropped us at Gaya (Bihar),” says Umesh, who earned around Rs 12,000 at the factory and sent half the money home. But the last time he got his salary was in February, he adds.
“I had never left Jharkhand until December last year. I had to leave because my mother was recently diagnosed with a kidney infection and we needed money,” says Umesh, who has minor injuries.
Umesh says he did not want to leave Jaipur, but his wife had been asking him to come back. “She was struggling with no money. There was no problem of food at the factory, but how could I eat knowing my children were going hungry,” says the father of two, the elder one three and the younger a year old.
Asked why he did not wait for a train from Rajasthan to go home, Umesh says, “I waited all this while, but people who worked at the factory were gradually leaving and I felt like I was betraying my family by staying at the factory. How long could I have waited?”
Umesh says he lost all his belongings in the accident. “I had kept my mobile phones, my Aadhaar card and other IDs in someone else’s bag. Now, I hear that the person is dead. I had Rs 2,500 too, but I guess that is gone now,” says Umesh.
Recalling the moments before the accident, Umesh’s nephew Vikas, who is among those who survived, says he was lying on the truck with his brother Ranjan, talking of home, family “and how to keep them happy”. At some point, the conversation trailed off and they drifted into sleep.
“Suddenly, there was a jerk and I was thrown away. My brother came under the truck… I thought he was no more and so I called my family and told them. But now I can’t find him among the dead. Koi kuch bol nahin raha hain. Mera dimag kharab ho gaya hain (Nobody is saying anything. My mind isn’t working),” he said.
At Kheerabadi village in Chas block of Jharkhand’s Bokaro district, Vikas and Ranjan’s mother cried inconsolably on the phone. “My younger son called and said Ranjan is no more. Now he says kisi ne confirm nahin kiya,” she said.
At Pandey Guest House near J C Crossing in Auraiya are four other survivors – all of them were travelling in the trailer truck that met with the accident.
Ankush Chauhan, 23, who works as a carpenter at a home décor firm in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, says he registered for the train service to take him back to Kushinagar district in UP. “Ten days ago, I had gone to a Jan Sewa Kendra in Bharatpur and registered for the train service. I got a message on my phone that day, but after that, there was no response. I went to the kendra again, but the person there asked me to wait for a message regarding my travel. That never came so we decided to walk. When there is a crisis, everyone wants to go home. Why do you think people have been walking for days,” says Ankush, who earned about Rs 20,000 a month. Next to him are his belongings in a big bag covered in white putty.
His friend Ritesh Chauhan, 19, who has bandages on his head, says, “We belong to the same village. We decided to leave together. We were scared we would get corona if we stayed there too long.”
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