New Delhi: It’s 11 a.m. and raining in Greater Noida. A group of 20 labourers trudge along lugging at their belongings with one carrying a three-year-old child on his shoulders, walking towards their native place in Uttar Pradesh’s Ambedkar Nagar, a distance of over 700 km, as the 21-day nationwide lockdown has brought all work to halt.
This is not the first group of people migrating from the national capital region (NCR)to their homes in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. Thousands have been marching along roads to reach their homes.
Indresh, who is in his late 30s and works as a labourer in Greater Noida, has also started to walk back home as he has no money to feed his children and other family members.
The rain is adding to his misery and he has no idea how he will reach home with his three-year-old kid in such rough conditions, but the only thing he knows is that he must not stop.
Speaking to IANS, Indresh said, “I used to work as a labourer in the high rise societies, but due to the lockdown I don’t have any work. So, I am leaving for my home.”
Briefly, he narrated his ordeal and said that he and his family members had not eaten since Thursday.
He said, “For the last one day we had nothing to eat. Whatever money I earned as a daily labourer has ended. I have no option but to go back to my home.”
Asked about his three-year-old child, he said, “I cannot leave my family to die here. I have to take him to my home and on the way I shall feed them with whatever Rs 100 or 200 left with me can help buy.”
Pointed out that it was raining, he said, “I shall cover him with the plastic sheet so that he does not get wet.”
Indresh is travelling on foot along with 20 other labourers, who originally hail from Faizabad and Ayodhya, and are also going back to their homes due to lack of work.
Shivanand Ram, another member of the group said, “After the nationwide lockdown, we are not left with any work and food.”
When asked if the landlord has asked them to vacate their rooms, he said, “No, the landlord didn’t ask us to leave. But, as we don’t have any money to feed our family, then what we shall do here.”
He said, as there are no chances of getting work here in next 15-20 days, it was better to leave for the village rather than stay here.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday in his second national address announced the 21-day nationwide lockdown to combat the COVID-19 spread, which has claimed 17 lives across the country.
The short four-hour notice for the shutdown has affected the country’s crores of migrant workers, almost pushing them in a no man’s land situation across the big cities in India.
The closure of all but essential services has made it impossible for the daily wagers to live in the rented shanties of big cities.
On the other hand, the closure of the railway passenger services and inter-state road services has also added to the misery of the labourers across the country.
Much like this group of 20 labourers, thousands of migrant labourers can be seen marching on foot, trying to reach their homes in Uttar Pradesh and even far away Bihar. Many can be seen carrying backpacks, bags and whatever handy material they can hold to travel long distances. Woman and children can be seen trudging along, taking small breaks but not stopping for long.
For these people, all that matters is reaching home somehow.
Even though Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore relief package on Thursday, to aid those who live on the margins, but panicked labourers are undertaking 500-800 km long journeys on foot in the absence of trains and buses.
On Friday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in India reached 724 with 640 cured cases.