In lockdown 3.0 Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked state governments to arrange transports to send migrant workers to their native places. Trains and buses have been running between many states ferrying migrant workers since then. However, migrants believe the decision was taken too late and the process to be eligible to travel to native home is slow. That is why they are forced to use difficult ways to reach their native places that are unacceptable to the government.
It was about 12:30 in the night when about a dozen men were spotted on Mumbai’s Ghatkopar Mankhurd link road, Chedda Nagar. When enquired it was revealed that they were on the way to Gonda, their native place, on a tempo. However, the police sent them back when they reached the nearby national highway. They all were from Mumbai’s slum area, Rafi Nagar and Shivaji Nagar.
“We were refused to continue our journey. The police asked us to wait until the state government could arrange any train or bus for Gonda. They say it is against the government rule and risky also,” said Samim Khan, one of the migrant workers who were travelling in the tempo.
They did not go back to their rented houses in Shivaji Nagar and Rafi Nagar. Rather, they were waiting for a better time when they could escape the police. Samim while showing his medical screening certificate said, “How long should we wait. Many have done screening and are waiting desperately to go home. However, we can’t see any hope as to when trains or buses will be arranged for Gonda from here.”
“We are running out of money and food here. How long we will survive on cooked food being provided by NGOs. That is why we are forced to go home,” said another migrant worker from the group who refused to reveal his name.
They were adamant to go home despite hurdles because there are many migrant workers who have already reached their native home by illegal means such as tempo, truck, motorcycle and on foot.
A migrant worker from Sultanpur district, Zainul, was staying in Mahim, left for Sultanpur on 4 May and reached his native place on 6 May. When people in his village came to know, they informed police so that he could be quarantined for 14 days as stated by the government. It is to avoid the spread of Covid-19 by migrant workers visiting homes. He was then quarantined at his own locked home where nobody used to stay. Zainul reached his native home by travelling in a tanker.
“The driver charged me Rs. 3500 to drop me here in my village from Mahim. Many police stopped us in between but we managed to keep going,” told Zainul. He came to Mumbai a few months back to find work. “I couldn’t find any work. I was running out of money, that is why I figured out this way to reach my home,” added Zainul. He would have to be dependent on NGOs and BMC cooked food if he would have stayed back in Mumbai for any longer. “I did not want to suffer so much so I had to leave,” added Zainul.
Residents of Govandi and Kurla told that trucks packed with men and women are running from their areas to the different districts of Uttar Pradesh. These migrants are charged Rs. 3500-4000 per head.
Migrants are so desperate that many are walking on foot days and nights to reach their native places. According to the Indian Express report, Ashok who hails from Varanasi and was working as a waiter in a hotel in Nagpada had to walk all the way to Varanasi on foot. It is about 1600 kilometres from Mumbai to Varanasi. Ashok with his few more friends followed roads and rail tracks to reach home.
On Mumbai’s highways, migrants workers are seen walking with bags slung on their back and carry bags in hands. “We were walking to reach home (Fatehpur) but the police asked us to go back. We are now going back but will leave again tomorrow while seeing better time to escape the police,” said a migrant worker walking on the road.
You might have heard that migrant workers are riding bikes from Mumbai to cities of Uttar Pradesh to reach home. Yes, you heard it right and this could be one of the longest bike rides and most adventurous. It is more than 1500 kilometres from Mumbai. A migrant worker from Gonda finished his bike journey from Mumbai to Gonda recently.
“When I was entering Gonda, police spotted me and are now figuring out a place to quarantine me for 14 days,” told Sabir (name changed). I had a word with him when he was made to wait at the residence of the village Pardhan.
He had lots of adventurous experiences while riding a bike from Mumbai to Gonda with his three more friends. “Police would stop us many times. That is why we took a more secure route to escape police. We had to wade through densely forests and mountain type roads,” told Sabir. He further added that the 3-day journey was very tiresome. Sabir was a labour and running out of money.
Three days ago a group of about 4-5 people also left Kurla for one of the villages in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. They were leaving Mumbai because they wanted to spend the lockdown and celebrate Eid with their families. Social distancing was also impractical for them as they were living in densely populated areas and small houses.
While talking to them I was worried if the migrants reaching home without medical screening would spread COVID-19. However, the migrant workers who have reached native homes told that they all were sent in quarantine. “People in my village (native place) were worried as you are, that is why they informed the police and helped me get quarantined,” said Aqib, a migrant worker from Gonda who reached Gonda from Mumbai recently. This proves that villagers have become more aware of the COVID-19 and know how to avoid spreading it.