Gorakhpur: Basti in Uttar Pradesh is more than 1,500 km away from Mumbai. But the distance hardly mattered for Dinesh Jaiswal and his wife Mithili who undertook a four-day journey in an autorickshaw to reach their native place in the Hindi heartland.
Hapless and impatient without work since the lockdown, Dinesh said there was hardly anything left for him in Mumbai. “I have been out of work for so long. Now all our savings are exhausted. At least I can earn something at home by farming and feed ourselves,” he told ThePrint.
Mithili, who had draped one of her better sarees for the journey, said, “We had packed roti-bhaji but it lasted only two days. Since then, we have been surviving on meagre amounts of food. My mother-in-law is alone in Basti, and with my husband is out of work. There was little reason for us to wait in Mumbai.”
Dinesh and Mithili have been married for eight years. Dinesh had been working at a glass factory in Mumbai for 10 years.
ThePrint met the two, travelling with three others, on the Lucknow-Gorakhpur highway. All of them had a similar tale of joblessness, cash crunch and lack of food that forced them to abandon their adopted city of Mumbai.
The group stopped at petrol pumps and public parks to take small naps at night before proceeding on their journey.
Ganesh, who was travelling with Dinesh and Mithili, said he had travelled to Mumbai on 16 March to drop off his sister, whose husband also did the job of cutting glass at factory there, and got stranded as the lockdown was announced on 24 March.
“My sister is still there but her husband is in Khalilabad, Uttar Pradesh. He had come for some land work and couldn’t go back to Mumbai. I had to come back to look after the family in Uttar Pradesh,” said Ganesh, who drives a handcart in Basti.
Like Dinesh, Mithili and Ganesh, there are lakhs of migrant workers, rendered jobless due to the coronavirus lockdown, have walked, cycled, boarded trucks or booked private buses to reach their native homes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
ThePrint witnessed thousands of migrant workers travelling in groups to their homes. Many of them had walked or cycled for 500-700 km before being able to board a truck or bus to cover some part of their journey.
The tale of six tailors from Delhi
For a group of six tailors, who worked in Delhi’s Kapashera, loss of job wasn’t the only problem. They had to pay rent for their accommodation. They finally decided to leave Delhi on 6 May. All six had come to the national capital from Bihar around three years ago.
“I am the only source of income for my family of six in Bihar. But these tough times have forced me to leave Delhi and go home. Even if I don’t get any work in my village, it’s still better than staying in Delhi. Our landlord kept asking us to pay rent (Rs 5,000) and ration money. There was no way we could manage it,” said Rustom Miya.
He echoed all the migrants who decided to leave cities after the lockdown announced: “I feel that people like us will die more from hunger now than Covid-19.”
Abdur Rehman, a 60-year-old tailor, had cycled for 500-600 km from Delhi to reach Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh where he found a truck to board. “Had we stayed there, we would have died of hunger.”
Amruddin, another among the group of tailors, said he got fed up of eating salt and roti for 10-15 days after his savings got exhausted. “Six of us stayed in one room. If one of us get infected, all will get the virus. So we left on our cycles. At least some of us will reach home if not all,” he added.
Jeet, also part of the group, said even though the chances of earning money back home were less, he still preferred to sleep hungry with family than die alone in the city.
“Staying hungry at my village with family works for me. I won’t be alone in this crisis. We have suffered a lot in the city, so we are running away like this.”
Rs 3,670 for a ride from Alwar to Uttar Pradesh
Some migrant workers who could afford to pay for a journey home are booking private tourist buses to reach home. ThePrint met one such group that was travelling from Alwar in Rajasthan to Uttar Pradesh.
Abdul Mallick, a construction worker in Alwar, said all of those travelling in the bus had paid Rs 3,670 for each seat.
“We have paid a total of Rs 1,60,000 to book this bus. We couldn’t wait any longer to reach home,” he said. Mallick also said the money was transferred to his account by his family in Uttar Pradesh.
Another worker, Lutfa, said her tickets were paid for by her family. “Mummy-Papa had sent money. I have two small children, a six-month-old and a two-year-old. I didn’t have the patience to stay back for my number to come to get on a government bus,” she said.
Yet another construction worker, Sabir Ali, said, “We had spoken to the authorities. But we were barely able to make ends meet and couldn’t wait any longer. So we decided to book this tourist bus.”
Bus driver Ajit Kant confirmed about the bookings and the money charged. “This is not a government bus. We will have to take the payment.”
He said they have the permit required for interstate travel during the lockdown, issued by the authorities concerned. The bus had the e-passes pasted on its windshield.
According to the Rajasthan government’s new guidelines, which came into force from Sunday night, the district collector concerned is authorised to issue passes for travel to other states through bus or train.