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March 24, 2020, a total lockdown of the entire nation was declared to control the COVID-19 pandemic. As the lock down progressed, we started becoming home bound, WhatsApp, Facebook addicts.

On May 5th, one of my close relatives suffered spinal injury; She lost her balance due to the feeling of suffocation under the mask while getting down from her car. I tried to apply for emergency car pass on this ground – but due to some reason I was unable to log into the site for submitting the application. Finally on May 14, with the help from a friend, I received the car pass.

Early morning of May 15th, I was on the road. I suddenly realised that there were no vehicles in front of me. As I entered the NH2, I saw a long line of human bodies moving along the side of the road. I had read in the newspaper and heard in the TV news that millions of migrant workers are returning to Bengal or on their way to Jharkhand passing over West Bengal. Some were carrying a child on her shoulder and someone with a gunny bag over his head. Everyone seemed to be following the person ahead of him. I did not know if they knew where they were heading for.

As I crossed the bridge over the Ganges at Dakshineswar, passed the first toll plaza, I realised that toll gates are open and free. But right after the Toll Naka, there was a police barricade.

The people walking along the expressway were stopped by the police; And strict body search was going on. As my car entered the barricade, one police man came near my window. As soon as he saw the pass, he asked me to go ahead. But I was watching this episode; The Policemen screening the migrant laborers trying to return to their home. They were asked to open their bags and drop everything on the ground.

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Inside the barricade, they had a big area marked by orange road dividers. A few of their pick-up men in the police force were collecting things of their choice and transferring it to this marked area. Once this process was completed, the person was asked to move, some of them with an empty bag hanging from their shoulder.

While watching this I started opening my window holding my mobile in the left hand; A big mistake. The police man in front of my car saw this and almost came running. I knew that my mobile will also be dropped in the marked area. I acted quickly and started fixing the mobile on the mobile-holder on the front screen and released the hand brake of my car.
I missed this picture; The police force who are empowered by the state to ensure the safety, health and possessions of citizens, doing a great job during this pandemic. Probably, they were collecting the penalty from these workers for walking on the National Highway without any permit; Fined for breaking the rules under lock-down.

As I moved forward, I realised that the police men have also lost their source of earning from the roadsides during this lock down. And I continued my journey along the National Highway with these migrant workers walking with much lesser loads to carry. I did take some pictures of this long line of human heads. I did not give lift to anyone. Just kept driving. I had lost those pictures, during cleaning of my mobile data. But they were almost similar to these pictures, only the faces were different.

Unfortunately, because of my personal urgency to reach Durgapur, I did not do any justice to these people. I was scared of infection; I reached Durgapur a distance of 175 km in just 2 hrs, a journey of about 4 hrs during non-peak hours during normal time. But during this very short journey, I realised that the people in power and their security forces do not have any time to think about this kind of people – who probably constitute 60% of our population.

Also read: More and more climate migrants are showing up at borders. Laws need to catch up

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.