For the past few months Gudiya Saha has been following the news on actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. “But that will not decide whom I vote for in the elections,” says the 36-year-old who lives in Mumbai’s Versova area with her husband and three children. During the lockdown, says Saha, her electrician husband, like many from the state in the western suburbs of the city, found it very difficult to earn a living. “We had to depend on the ration being distributed. We have no savings left. For me that is a bigger concern than whom to vote for,” says Saha, sitting in her small home in a chawl that has migrant families from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other districts of Maharashtra. Many in the neighbourhood work in the film industry.
But, she says, “I will go back to Patna to vote soon,” she adds. The family has been living in Mumbai for 10 years.
Her neighbour, Brijkishore Saha, a native of Bihar’s Vaishali district, who works with a film production unit, says he has managed to find work only twice since the lockdown. “We have been depending on help from some of the actors. No politician has visited us. What is shown on the news about (about Rajput’s death) is not linked to our reality,” says Brijkishore whose family of four is surviving on 20 kg ration (wheat or rice) and financial assistance provided by a production firm to film workers.
As per the 2011 Census, over two lakh residents of Mumbai, and over 29 lakh in Maharashtra were born in Bihar. This does not include the seasonal migrant workers who travel to the state every year. Since the un-lockdown, 17 trains have been running between Bihar and Mumbai, including three daily. While there is no data on migrant workers returning from Bihar, officials said the occupancy of the trains has been a 100 per cent.
Even as migrant workers are finding it hard to make ends meet in Mumbai, those who have returned to Bihar echo similar struggles.
“There is not even a small sui-dhaaga (needle-thread) factory set up by the government in Bihar to give us employment. Ten of us who worked as daily wage labourers in Kherwadi area of Mumbai have finally got tickets from an NGO to return to the city in November. We have no option. What we have been through in Bihar will decide whom we vote for,” says Gopal Das over the phone from Bhagalpur.
Adds his colleague, Manoj Kumar, “Even in the quarantine centre (in Bihar) where we were kept for two weeks, the treatment meted out to us was bad. It shows how little we are cared for. If ahead of polls we are not being offered any help, how do we expect them to remember us for five years?”
For Das, 42, his struggle in the early days of the lockdown, when he was stuck in Mumbai for two months, came as a big disappointment. “We made so many calls to state helplines, to local leaders pleading that they make arrangements for us to return home. No one helped us. We took loans to reach home. But there is no work here either,” he says.
“The situation that these workers found themselves in during the lockdown is bound to have an impact on the polls. Many workers are now returning to Mumbai,” says Congress MLA from Bandra East Zeeshan Siddiqui whose family hails from Gopalganj in Bihar.
Says JD(U) leader Devesh Thakur who shuttles between Mumbai and Bihar and has been organising Bihar Day celebrations in the city, “It was not possible to please everyone then. No one in the world was prepared for Covid-19, billions were affected.”
The JD(U) leader also insists that the Sushant Singh Rajput case will not be an election issue. “It was an unfortunate incident. The police will decide what is true,” he added.
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