“Hum to jee jaan se kaam karte hain par maalik ek mahina bhi nahin sambhal sake hume (We put our blood and sweat into our work, but our boss couldn’t even take care of us for a month). Forget salary, our employer did not even give us some ration. Today, when we were leaving, they asked us to stay back and work and came to us with ration bags,” said Santosh Kumar, who works at a melting unit in Jalandhar where components of JCB machines are manufactured.
“Yahan bohot pareshan rahe hain jab se lockdown hua hai. Hume bhi kaam chahiye ghar mein chhote bacche hain. Par ab bharosa nahin raha. Ek baar to ghar jana hi chahte hain. Kaise rahenge yahan, March mahine ke paise nahi diye. Bola haalaat ka koi pata nahin, aaj kaam de raha hun, kal kaam band bhi ho sakta hai. Koi guarantee nahin hai isliye ja rahe hain aur aaj to sarkar train bhej rahi hai agar baad mein nahin bheja to kaya hoga (We have seen very bad days. We also want to work as we have small children at home but now we can’t trust anyone anymore. We want to go home at least once. We did not get out March salary. The owner said he may or may not give us work. There is no guarantee. Today the government is sending trains, tomorrow it may not. Then what will happen?,” he asked.
Santosh is from Bahraich district of Uttar Pradesh. Standing in a long queue outside Balle Balle Marriage Palace on the national highway, he waited patiently for his medical check-up on Sunday, before proceeding to the railway station.
The factory he works at has reopened and he has got work, but now, he just wants to go home.
“I will come back when things return to normal,” he said.
Like Santosh, hundreds of other labourers in queue have similar stories to tell. “He did not provide us food for a month, today he is coming to us with ration. From where did he get it now?” asked Ram Nath from Jharkhand, who works at a factory at Godaipur. He also got work, but he chose to leave for his native place.
‘Food is for Punjabis, not migrants’
”Every time the government used to send ration to our colony at Godaipur, they never used to give it to us and told that that the food was for Punjabis not for migrants,” said another labourer, Ajit Kumar, working in a hand tools factory at Focal Point.
Arvind Verma, the contractor of the labourers, said he has been making arrangements for UP-based labourers from several factories in Jalandhar since long. “I have been trying to stop them but this lockdown has created a lot of fear in their minds. It has opened the eyes of every migrant labourer to how factory owners have neglected them at a time of need and now they do not want to stay back,” said Verma, adding that majority labourers are leaving without their March month salary.
“I am the direct link between labour and factory owners and labour. The labourers have really faced a very tough time and several companies gave false advertisements in newspapers that they have given the March salary to their workers, which is highly inhumane,” he added.
Social distancing norms ignored
Huge crowds were witnessed at all three centres in Jalandhar where labourers were asked to gather for medical check-ups before being taken to the railway station. While the capacity is supposed to be 1,200 labourers per train, three times the number were seen queuing up under the scorching sun.
Only those who get an SMS are supposed to come. Several labourers from Hoshiarpur are also reaching Jalandhar to catch trains though their registration was done at Hoshiarpur and they cannot be sent from here.
Around 40 migrants from a plywood factory in Hoshiarpur left on foot Saturday night for Motihari in Bihar. They were located with the help of Cabinet Minister Sunder Sham Arora and Ludhiana district administration picked them and sent them to a relief centre.