On a Saturday afternoon, left behind at the Transport Nagar bus stop in Jaipur, next to the road that goes to Agra, are two pairs of used footwear. About 20 metres away, policemen are distributing new ones to migrants on their way out of the state.
Seeing a senior police officer approaching, Shiva Kumar’s finally loses his composure. Sobbing, his hands folded, the 19-year-old pleads with Pushpendra Singh, Additional Commissioner of Police, Jaipur, to help him reach his home in Kanpur. “I have come from Mehsana, Gujarat. Saheb, please let me go to Uttar Pradesh. I don’t have any money, I have been begging for two months,” Kumar says, by now bawling.
By his side, Arvind Yadav, 19, who worked with Kumar at a tarpaulin manufacturing unit in Mehsana, has also broken down.
They continue to sob as they are handed over a pair of vests, underwear and water bottle each. They already have Parle G biscuits, but are handed over another packet. Kumar’s slippers aren’t broken but policemen bring out a new pair and ask him to wear them, even as he, looking confused, points to the pair he already has on. Turns out police have run out of men’s slippers and the one they urge him to take is meant for women, with heels.
ACP Singh says it was his idea to distribute the footwear — mostly dark-coloured for men, rainbow-patterned for women, “in common sizes 6-8” — to the migrants, seeing some walking barefoot. Police have been giving away footwear at this bus stop since May 14. “Some of these men have been walking for days, and without a bath, so I thought let’s provide them fresh vests and underwear too,” the ACP says. On Sunday, police added a gamcha (towel) and snacks to the list, though Singh is worried about the depleting Parle G supplies.
Following Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s instructions to Sub Divisional Magistrates to ensure no migrant walks home, police have been bundling them into buses as per destination, to be dropped off at the state borders for free. In the past few days, the government has organised travel of more than 1,600 migrants out of Jaipur, on trains or buses.
Since this road leads to Agra, the migrants from here are headed for the Bharatpur border.
As the migrants reach the bus stop, police tell them to collect the packets and choose a pair of slippers from a heap. Egged on, a reluctant Anita, visibly pregnant, chooses a pair and carries them to a bus. She says she worked as a labourer in Jaipur, and hopes to get home to Madhya Pradesh.
Sonu, 19, too has a pair of sandals in his hands. “I worked at a tea stall. My landlord asked me to pay Rs 2,200 rent. I am out of cash, so I’m leaving for Bihar,” he says.
Muskan, 12, gets down barefoot from a bus, with father Mahendra, 32. “I have been selling golgappe in Jaipur for 15 years and built a small home. But now we just want to go back to Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh,” he says.
Holding the packet containing the vests, Chandra (23), Shiv (25), Ramesh (22), Suraj (22) and Pankaj (18) say it is the first time in days they have stepped out of their rented accommodations.
“We are from Faizabad in UP and have been stuck in Jaipur for two months. The hotel we worked in has been shut,” says Shiv, adding that their employer has been helping them with money and supplies. It was he who told them to go look for buses, the men say, adding that if they could not leave, they were “welcome” to return.
Meanwhile, near where the distribution is on, on the road to Agra, a man sits outside a puncture repair shop in a new vest, a size too big. “He is a local, one of the migrants sold it to him for Rs 50,” laughs a policeman.