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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Migrant workers carry their world along as they head home

Almost two months later as they go home on Shramik trains, along with the fans, they have been seen carrying charpoys, empty paint drums to double up as water storage containers back home and such other stuff they held dear.

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty | Vadodra |
Updated: May 24, 2020 5:46:25 am
coronavirus, coromavirus in gujarat, covid 19 lockdown, migrant workers, migrant workers stuck, migrant workers in gujarat, migrant workers home, indian express news Migrants travel home with their belongings. (Photo by Bhupendra Rana)

On March 29, a day before states sealed their borders prohibiting movement of the migrant labourers amid lockdown, thousands of restive workers had queued up at Pitol checkpost on the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border to cross over, most of them having covered long distances on foot, some hitch hiked and some transported via state buses.

Waiting to get scanned by the medical team and fed by volunteers, the migrants including women, stood with heavy baggage on their head, children in their arms a few clutching portable electric fans. Almost two months later as they go home on Shramik trains, along with the fans, they have been seen carrying charpoys, empty paint drums to double up as water storage containers back home and such other stuff they held dear.

Mohammad Muzaffar (42), a native of Purnia in Bihar, had decided to walk back home on May 18 from his rented residence at Harni road area of the city when he was intercepted by the police and shifted to a shelter home here in the city.

Mohammad had moved to the city in January and had only two pair of clothes with him. As he embarked on his journey back home, without any income food or money, he also carried a portable fan his room-mate had left behind.

“I did not have the money to buy train tickets so I had thought of walking back home. I wanted to be with the family on Eid. One of my neighbours had left the fan because it was not functional. I had a lot of spare time so I mended it. I did not want to leave it behind. Table fans are otherwise expensive and I could not afford one, I can use this in my village,” Mohammad told this paper.

He is the sole breadwinner of the family of six and worked as a labourer at an iron casting company here in the city. Back in his village, without any farmland or source of income, uncertainties loom large over making ends meet.

The Indian Express met many such migrant workers who are heading home on Shramik trains, their world packed in a backpack, suitcase, sack, or a bedsheet. Some of them also carried handmade fans to help them beat the heat during the journey.

Raees Kureshi (12) got down from the bus clinging on to his tiny charpoy. His face masked with a handkerchief, a huge bag mounted over his head, with clothes and a quilt, he was unwilling to let go off the charpoy.

“Mother asked me to pack everything. So I did, and I could not leave this behind. I used to sit on it and study here and read stories. I don’t know if my parents will come back, so I wanted to take it along to use it as a study table back in my village,” Raees said.

The police stopped Raees outside the railway station where the state transport buses ferrying migrants drop them off, not allowing him to take the charpoy, but seeing the boy’s determination, they let it go. Raees’s family had moved to Vadodara around 15 years ago to work at a honey bee farm. Back at home in Khalispur village of Samastipur district in Bihar, they have no source of income and work as farm labourers for others.

Jogindar Yadav (20) who worked as a driver and his brother Nitish (16) who works with a dairy farmer in Dena village of Vadodara are heading back home after their father insisted they return. “There were cases from nearby villages and our father got really scared. He immediately asked us to return. Earlier he too worked in Gujarat and that is how we knew that there was good money here. But he decided to retire and we took over,” Jogindar said.

Apart from a bag full of clothes, they also carried another huge bag carefully packaged, containing a 40-inch second hand television set, which they had bought from their savings. “We thought since we are leaving, we will take the TV set back home. We can put this new one for our mother and discard the old set. She likes watching shows on TV, this will make her happy,” Jogindar said.

Like Jogindar a few other families headed towards Uttar Pradesh too carried their  television sets as they were scared that it might get stolen in their absence. “We don’t know when we will be back. I would want to come back but only when everything normalises and I don’t think it will be soon. So I thought it’s better to take the TV back home otherwise someone might steal it,” said Riyaz Ansari (32) who worked at a unit in GIDC Manjusar and is on his way back to his village in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh.

Walking cautiously on the circles marked to maintain social distancing as they entered the railway station amidst continuous announcements to walk faster, hold their babies, wear masks and maintain distance, a few also carried buckets, tumblers, soaps and other toiletries.

“I am heading home almost after a year and a half. I don’t know what things will be available and what not back in our village. So it is important that I take everything back. I don’t have the money to buy new things so I can’t throw away the old ones,” said Munna Malti (42) who worked at a fabrication unit in Waghodia. The family of six decided to return to their native as sustaining in the city without wages was becoming difficult. The family has hopes of returning as soon as normalcy prevails.

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