It is probably the first time in a month that Jadav Gogoi has smiled. And with good reason.
On Monday, Gogoi, a migrant worker from Assam, completed a journey of around 2,900 km, partly on foot, partly on a truck, battling storms, hunger and thieves to reach his hometown in Nagaon district.
“All I wanted to do was get home,” said a smiling Gogoi, on a video call from Nagaon’s BP Civil Hospital, where he is currently quarantined. Last month, when PM Narendra Modi announced the lockdown, Gogoi said the “company” he worked at for six months in Gujarat “chucked him out”. “There was no food, nor money, markets were closed,” he said, “If I had stayed, I would have starved and died.” It was then that Gogoi, along with a group of other migrants — none of whom was from Assam — decided to make the long journey home.
“Yes he is in Nagaon, but we are trying to ascertain the exact route and where he came from,” said Abhijit Gurav, Nagaon SP.
“We have sent our officers to verify the facts,” said Nagaon DC Jadav Saikia. “Officially we cannot comment on where he came from and how. We will know once we speak to him properly. He probably took a lift. It is unlikely he walked 3,000 km,” said Gurav.
But the blisters on his feet tell another story — even if the details are a little unclear in Gogoi’s head. “I walked, there was a truck but they did not carry me the whole way,” he said.
One of his co-travellers, Rakesh Kumar Yadav, a migrant worker from Varanasi confirmed that the group had left a place called Chandola (near Ahmedabad) together on March 25. “He [Gogoi] used to stay near us. He did not have a phone, he did not speak much Hindi. But we knew him,” said Yadav, who worked in ‘medicine delivery’ during his time in Gujarat. “So we took a bus on March 25, then a truck and when we finally reached Varanasi, he said to us ‘chale jaaonga’ and he left. That is when I last saw him.”
But before that, Gogoi had used Yadav’s phone to call home. “It was an unknown number and I was shocked to hear his voice,” said Rajen Phukan, Gogoi’s brother-in-law, who lives in Gadharia, the same village as Gogoi. “He told me that he had reached Uttar Pradesh and he was going to catch a bus to Bihar, and then walk home to Nagaon — to his wife and two children.”
Phukan said they were worried but did not know how to help or whom to call. “It was a journey of 1,000 km. I told him it was a lockdown and that it was very dangerous to move around but he seemed to insist.”
Days passed and there was no news — till on April 13, Gogoi called again, this time he announced that he had just entered Barpeta district, about 300 km away. “Is it Bihu?” Gogoi had asked Phukan, “I can see people dressed and celebrating.”
And this is how the week followed: sporadic calls from different locations, snippets of information, before he would just disappear. Gogoi told his family that he slept in bus-stops, jironi ghors (rest houses, open to the elements, that dot the highway), and ate only when he was lucky.
“He mostly survived on biscuits and tea. During the big storm after Bihu, he put a stool on his head and somehow saved himself,” says Jayshree, Phukan’s wife. “He also said he was robbed of whatever money he had on the way…he told us he had set out with Rs 4,000.”
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On April 19, Phukan received the final call from Gogoi. He had reached Ahotguri in Raha, about 45 km from Gadharia. “My niece and a few boys from the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) alerted the police and rushed out in a car to fetch him,” said Phukan.
The group drove in the dark for about half an hour, till they spotted the man asleep in a jironi ghor (rest house) on the highway. “We called out to him — ‘khura (uncle), is that you?’” recalled Dibyajit Hazarika of AJYCP. “He woke up and said ‘how did you find me? I have walked for long and I cannot go any further.’”
The Nagaon police immediately rushed him to the hospital where Gogoi was put in quarantine. “We are testing him for COVID-19 and we expect the results tomorrow,” said J Ahmed, Superintendent of the Nagaon Civil Hospital, “He seems okay but tired. We will keep him for the mandatory 14 day period at the least.”
Gogoi does not mind. “I am happy to be here,” he said. But how he got there is something he would rather not talk about. “I was hungry, I was cold … I really do not have more to say,” said Gogoi from the hospital bed. “But one thing is for sure: never in my life will I step out of Assam again.”
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