“Ghar se paisa mangwa ke kha rahe hain, railway station jate hain to police danda maarti hai, kucch ne paisa bhi manga train mein chadne ke liye jabki humari registertion 12 din pahle ho gai thi. Jab koi rasta nahin bacha to humne cycle par hi ghar jane ka soch liya pata nahin pahunchenge bhi ya raste mein dam tod denge (We have been feeding ourselves using money sent from home. At railway station, police canes us…some even demanded money…to let us board the train even though our registration happened 12 days back. When there is no way out left, we decided to go home on a bicycle. Not sure if we will reach home or die along the way).”
As Brij Kishore (21) put his fear and helplessness in words at Phagwara, he had already travelled150 km and still had nearly 1500 km to cover to reach home – village Bathani Tola in Bihar’s Bhojpur district.
Kishore, who worked at a thread mill in Amritsar district and was part of a group of over 29 migrants on cycles, added: “Pita ji ne 1000 rupaye udhar le ke bheje hain usme se 800 rupay ki purani cycle li hai. Teen din ho gaya chalte ko aur 12 din aur lagega. Pairon mein chhale pad gaye hain, pata nahib ghar pahunch payenge ya nahin (My father borrowed and sent Rs 1000. I used Rs 800 to buy a second-hand bicycle. I have been riding for the past three days and it will take 12 more days to reach my village. Our feet are badly swollen and we are not aware whether we will reach home or not).”
From another direction, Santosh Kumar arrived in Phagwara from Hoshiarpur’s Tanda town in a group of 100 migrants on bicycles on their way to Bihar. “Humare jilla se to train hi nahin chala raha hai aur na hi bata rahe hain ki train chalange ya nahin. 12 din se intzar kar rahe hain. Is baar to lag raha hai ki ghar nahin pahunch payenge. Roz 10 km paidal chalke DC office jaate hain puchhne ke liye par police bhaga deti hai issseliye ab ghar ja rahen hain cycle par (No trains are being run from our district. We are not even aware whether they would run from here or not. Daily we walk 10 km on foot to DC office to inquire about the train, and the police send us back to our rooms without any clarification. Now we are going home on cycles),” said Santosh.
While Shramik trains have been running from Jalandhar and Amritsar districts for over a week, migrants from all eight districts of Doaba and Majha regions were found walking and cycling to their homes in UP, Bihar, and Jharkhand in large groups.
The entire stretch from Kartarpur in Jalandhar to Phagwara was full of such migrants on Tuesday. The groups were seen braving the scorching sun.
“Whatever we had with us here had finished a while back. Our families back home had been supporting us by sending money. So is it not better to go back rather than asking them to send money?” said Vikas, another migrant who had started from Beas in Amritsar.
Ram Nivasan, who hails from district Sharsha in Bihar said, “When no one is telling us anything clearly, how long can we wait here in uncertainty. As no one was helping us, so we started our long journey to home.”
“Police caned me when I went to railway station to inquire about the train from Hoshiarpur. After such treatment, I decided to start on my own,” said Bholu Ram, who has been coming to Punjab for the past over a decade to work as a construction labourer.
The allegation of money being demanded to let migrants board the trains was brought up another migrant from Amritsar.
“We went to the railway station after getting a message and there they are demanding Rs 500 to Rs 700 to board the train. We don’t even have a single penny, from where do you think we would have paid them,” said Amrish Sahu, who had reached Phagwara cycling to Bihar from Amritsar.
“If trains are run for free by the government then why we are asking to pay for it,” questioned another migrant, who did not wish to be named.
While many walked with only food they carried in their bags to sustain them, some were served langar along the way.
Sukesh Gupta of Hoshairpur-based Barfani Sewa Dal said that he saw the poor migrants walking during his morning walk and called his friends to organise some refreshments. “We located a shop and purchased bread, jam and other eatables from there and served them,” he added.
Others kept the walking while feeding on ‘dry chivda’ (beaten rice) that they had kept in small carry bags along with clothes and other belongings.