No one’s workers: How migrant workers struggle to reach home

Image used for representational purposes only ( SOurce: Social media)

Bilal Khan,

India has nearly 139 million migrant workers toiling to earn a living in states and cities thousands of miles away from home. With a nationwide lockdown, these workers were stranded in many states – without money and even food, and desperate to go home. BILAL KHAN tells the story of four such workers stranded in Mumbai and their travails on the way to home.

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MUMBAI: Since the lockdown was enforced across the country following the COVID-19 pandemic, migrant workers – which include daily wage earners, have had to face hardship. The workers, stranded in states outside their home states, were desperate to go home. Although migrant workers are slowly being sent to their native places, however, thousands of them are still facing hardship and inconveniences despite the promises made by state governments.

Mohammed Sayeed, 36, is a migrant from Rajasthan’s Nagaur city who has been running a nagori dairy in Mumbai. Being without a home, Sayeed would live in the dairy with six other people. Because of the lockdown that was enforced on 24 March his dairy was shut, leaving him with no source of income. He managed to bear the expenses of staying in Mumbai for a month by spending his savings. However, after a month as the savings ran out he began thinking of ways to go home.

Sayeed left Mumbai on a motorcycle on May 7 with his four friends from the same native city. They had to take an inside route to escape police on highways which turned out to be dangerous for them. “While we were passing through some villages, people recognized us as travelers and tried to block the route and send us back. They were anguished thinking we are carrying the coronavirus. However, we somehow managed to convince them and reached our native place in 30 hours,” said Mohammed.

Sayeed says as people in Nagaur city are worried of migrants coming back to the city, they did not inform anyone in the family.

Sayeed and his friends directly visited the hospital where COVID-19 tests were conducted.

“I had heard from my relatives that people are not welcoming anyone until quarantine is complete and the report is not negative. That is why instead of going home we went through the stated procedure. Currently I am in a quarantine center,” added Sayeed.

Sayeed also said that the facilities in the quarantine center are good. They are provided with good foods. “Iftar facility is also there for those who are observing fast in this Ramadan month,” he said.

Sayeed is worried that he has some stock of food grains at his native home that he and his family of seven members can survive on for about 30-40 days. “I don’t have any plan as to what I will do once the stock is over. But, I am praying that the businesses will start again as soon as possible so that we can earn and at least put food on the tables,” he adds.

Another migrant, Sirajuddin Khan, 28, left Mumbai for his native place Gonda in Uttar Pradesh on a motorcycle with four friends. They also took the inside route to avoid hurdles from police. They had to ride bikes through rough roads and pass through dangerous forests. They had no other option than to leave Mumbai. “I was working in a furniture shop. I would earn Rs. 13,000 a month. Our employer refused to give us salary during this lockdown citing shortage of finance. We all were running out of money that is why we thought to leave for our (native) homes,” Khan said.

Khan did not want to spend time in quarantine and he kept it hidden from people in his native place. Somehow his villagers got to know and informed the police before he could reach home. “Before I could reach home I was caught by police and they sent me to quarantine at a tube well because all the schools and other places for quarantine are full here in UP,” says Khan.

Migrant workers visiting Gonda are not being provided with food in the quarantine center. Families of quarantined people have to supply food for them.

Khan further added that villagers are scared if COVID-19 will spread in the village as more and more people are visiting Gonda. “We were scared of the coronavirus when we were in Mumbai as it is in the red zone. Now people here in Gonda are scared of (us), who are their own people and who only left the native home for work,” added Khan.

Nayeem Mohammed, 27, had left his native place Kendrapara, Odisha, 15 years ago and was working in a hotel in Hyderabad. He was earning Rs. 14000 a month. However, he has not been paid since the lockdown was imposed. To multiply his plight, his landlord has been also asking for rent of Rs. 5000 repeatedly. “I have been surviving mostly on foods provided by NGOs. In such a bad situation, I was getting pressured by the landlord for rent and this made me choose to leave the city and go home,” says Nayeem.

Nayeem further added that he has borrowed Rs. 4000 to pay for bus fare from Hyderabad to Odisha.

“I will try to do some labour work in my native place to earn something so that my family and I can survive. We don’t have much stock of foodgrains in my home because we don’t have farms,” added Nayeem.

Late in the night on 12 May, Nayeem reached Kendrapara and was sent to a quarantine center. He is married but his family of four members stay in Odisha. “We are provided with all the essentials at the quarantine center including food. I hope my family will be safe when I visit home after spending days in the quarantine center,” says Nayeem.

Asim Shaikh, 22, resides in Mumbai’s Abdul Rehman Street with four of his friends. All are from Murshidabad, West Bengal. They would earn money from loading and unloading goods from trucks and tempos and earn not more than Rs. 12000 a month. “We are now dependent on NGOs cooked food. We have submitted the form on 5 May with medical screening certificates but we are yet to see any hope as to when we will be going home. Sometimes our contractors send us money but not enough to survive on,” said Shaikh.

On 13 May they left Mumbai to Bhiwandi with hope that they will get some transport service to go to their native place. However, they fell short of money. “The truck driver is ready to ferry us to West Bengal and is charging Rs. 5000 for one person. After asking help from family and contractors we still need about Rs. 500-1000 each. The truck driver wants the full money despite knowing our situation. We are trying hard to gather enough money,” added Shaikh.

Even migrants visiting home in Uttar Pradesh are also paying Rs. 3500-4000 to truck drivers. The trucks ferrying migrants are packed with 45-50 passengers.

“My family is scared of us carrying the coronavirus. That is why we will first visit the hospital for COVID-19 testing and remain in quarantine. We have children at home and we are scared of affecting others if we have the disease,” added Shaikh.

The workers are blaming the government for not doing enough for the migrant workers.

“The government has received a lot of funds as donation, but they are doing nothing to help us. It is becoming harder to survive day by day,” said Shaikh.