April 14, 2020
In a repeat of shocking scenes from when the lockdown was first announced by the Union government, migrants across the country once again set off to reach their hometowns in huge numbers, violating orders to stay at home.
Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the coronavirus-enforced lockdown till May 3, a large number of migrant workers who earn daily wages came out on roads on Tuesday demanding transport arrangements to go back to their native places.
The biggest such incident was reported from Mumbai’s Bandra West, where flocks of migrant labourers gathered outside the railway station, hoping to go home as they had no jobs, no money and no source of food.
Daily wage earners, numbering around 1,000, assembled at suburban Bandra (West) bus depot near the railway station and squatted on road at around 3 pm.
Videos and images showing hordes protesting outside the Bandra station soon went viral on social media.
Heavy police deployment was made at the site to tackle any untoward incident.
Initially, the police asked local community leaders to help convince the crowd to leave the area but when the labour refused to disburse, the police resorted to lathicharge.
A police official said the migrants were dispersed two hours later and have been assured accommodation and food till the lockdown lasts.
Similar scenes were also witnessed in Mumbra, a suburb in the Thane district. Several migrant labourers gathered in Mumbra as well. They demanded that they be allowed to go back to their hometowns.
Many told police that they wanted to go home walking. Policemen tried to calm down the situation but later had to use lathicharge to disperse the crowd. People alleged that their money is over and they don’t even have money for food.
After PM Modi’s lockdown extension announcement, around 150 migrant workers from Hyderabad started their journey on foot to Palasa in Srikakulam of Andhra Pradesh.
However, soon they were stopped by police within the city limits and ministers T Srinivas rushed to the location and convinced them to stay put in Hyderabad.
The group was shifted to relief camps while Rs 500 per head and 12 kg of rice was assured to them as a relief measure.
Srikakulam is around 800 km from Hyderabad.
A group of migrant workers in Ahmedabad too set off for their hometowns in UP’s Mahu district after news of the lockdown extension broke.
They set out on foot and the hungry and thirsty crowd were spotted by the police near the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar highway and stopped there where provisions of food and water were made for them.
The migrants, however, insist on going home, saying that they would rather walk 13,000 km than die hungry here.
Days after violent protests in the city, hundreds of migrant workers converged at Varachha’s Mohan Nagar in Surat.
They too demanded provisions to be sent back home.
Workers employed in Surat’s textiles industries sta with placards in their hands, demanding that they be allowed to go back home. They alleged that their factory bosses have switched off their phones and this has left them bereft of money and food.
On Friday, hundreds of migrant workers stuck n Surat amid the lockdown went on a rampage setting many vehicles on fire.
They demanded that necessary arrangements be made for them to return to their native places and are also sought quick disbursal of unpaid dues.
NO RENT TO PAY, NO FOOD TO EAT
The coronavirus is underlining the difficult trade-offs countries must make when trying to contain the pandemic, with many fearing that India’s poorest people will be severely hit.
Daily wage workers have been rendered jobless ever since the lockdown was announced late last month to stem the spread of Covid-19, making their life a constant struggle.
Though authorities and NGOs have made arrangements for their food, most of them want to go back to their native places to escape the hardship brought by the sweeping curbs.
For workers, mostly from Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, who live in rented accommodations, the shutdown is a crisis, as wages dry up and many cannot afford the rent or even food in the cities.
The lockdown has brought trains to a halt and sealed state borders, sparking some isolated protests by migrant workers.
LOCKDOWN 1.0 REPEAT?
Tuesday’s scenes come barely weeks after the announcement of a coronavirus-induced lockdown on March 25 set off a migrant crisis.
Towards the end of March, hundreds of thousands fled the big cities for their homes in the hinterland when PM Modi announced the lockdown, many walking great distances with their families on empty highways.
Across India, labourers returning home said they had been left with little choice other than to attempt to walk back to their home villages after work – and public transport – vanished.
Thousands of daily wagers and labourers from Delhi, Haryana and even Punjab reached Delhi’s Anand Vihar, Ghazipur and Ghaziabad’s Lal Kuan areas after arduous treks on foot in a bid to ride buses to their respective native places.
Eventually, many were accommodated by state governments while others were picked up in buses and dropped off home — not before setting off the biggest displacement exercise in India since the Partition.