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Hit by lockdown, stranded on roads: Migrant labourers walk for days to reach home

India Today logo India Today 26-03-2020 India Today Web Desk

On Tuesday night, a group of 50 migrant labourers in Ahmedabad embarked upon a 150-km journey to their native village in Rajasthan's Dungarpur district. Of course, this wasn't the first time they were travelling home from Ahmedabad. But unlike other times, this journey was to be made on foot.

a little girl walking down the street

The reason: all modes of public transport were shut due to the 21-day nationwide lockdown imposed to combat the spread the novel coronavirus.

Radheshyam Patel, a native of Dungarpur district who was part of the group, says he has been working as a daily wager in Ahmedabad but there was no point in staying back in the city when there was no income due to the lockdown.

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"Most of us work here (in Ahmedabad) at tea stalls or food joints. Since everything is shut, our employers have asked us to come back only after things get normal, as they don't have money to pay us," he said.

No work for 21 days would mean no income. And surviving in a city like Ahmedabad without any income would be a tough task for Patel and others.

"Since buses and other modes of transport are not available, we have decided to walk to reach home," he was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

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Speaking about the novel coronavirus and the nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Patel said they know the virus is dangerous but they are helpless.

"I know there is the threat of coronavirus, but we are helpless. How would we survive without any income for three weeks?" he asks.

At 8 pm on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the entire country would be going under a 21-day lockdown. He said this lockdown is very important for India to fight against novel coronavirus and control its spread. The World Health Organisation and health experts have said social distancing, self-quarantines and lockdowns can help in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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But while the lockdown is necessary, migrant labourers like Patel are hit hard financially as the lockdown means no work and income for 21 days. A long 21 days.

Authorities in bordering districts of Rajasthan are making travel arrangements for the migrant labourers returning on foot from Gujarat.

"We don't have money to pay to our landlord. It's better we move back to our native places," said Mangi Lal, a native of Rajasthan's Udaipur district. He was part of a group of 100 people who started walking from Gujarat's Mehsana district to return to their homes.

Speaking to PTI, Inspector General, Gandhinagar Range, Mayank Chavda said the state police is providing food packets and water to the migrant workers on humanitarian grounds. "We are trying our best to discourage them from moving to Rajasthan. This will defeat the purpose of nationwide lockdown," he said.

"Since they are desperate to reach their homes, we are providing them food and water during their journey. We are also taking action against the factory owners who have not done enough to keep these workers here," Chavda said.

Gujarat Migrant Workers' Congress president Ashok Punjabi has claimed that over 50,000 workers have left on foot from Ahmedabad alone to reach their homes in Rajasthan. This claim could not be independently verified.

But this is not the story of Rajasthan alone. Migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states too are facing similar problems.

On Monday, a group of around 20 migrant labourers from UP's Balrampur left Chandigarh on bicycles and peddle rickshaw to cover a distance of over 900 km. This was after they started finding it hard to earn enough to buy food and other essentials in Chandigarh.

Six of them were stuck near Moradabad after travelling nearly 300 km on cycles, cycle rickshaws, and cart.

"One of the six migrants is differently abled. They were robbed near Saharanpur and have eaten only once since they left," Rajinder Shukla, a native of Balrampur 52, told India Today TV in Chandigarh. "We also want to go back but do not have money. The taxi operators are asking Rs 4,000 each to drop us. We are stuck here."

Shukla says he used to earn between Rs 4,000 and Rs 6,000 a month by pulling a cycle rickshaw in Chandigarh but is now jobless.

"We have nothing to do here. We want to live with our family members during this period but have no resources. We request the local administration to help us reach our village. The taxi operators are demanding thousands of rupees," Sunil Kumar, who works as a rag picker in Chandigarh, said.

(With inputs from Manjeet Shehgal in Chandigarh and PTI)

Follow the government's latest travel advice if you are planning a trip outside India or travelling back to India from affected areas. You can also read World Health Organization's advice on basic protective measures against the virus. WHO has also busted some myths surrounding coronavirus. The Ministry of Health's special helpline is available at +91-11-23978046 and ncov2019@gmail.com.


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